It’s little wonder you’re feeling frustration – and you are certainly not alone. Poor and untimely execution of business strategy is the most prevalent concern among business leaders throughout North America. According to recent research, more than 70% rank it as their #1 issue, above economic, social, political, technological, competitive and marketplace issues.
Many have said that having a sound strategy will not, on its own, bring success – execution is key. In spite of this recognition, however, it doesn’t seem as though things are getting much better; if anything, the pressure to improve, and quickly, is increasing.
What to do?
A good place to start would be to reflect on what you have and have not done in relation to getting your strategy executed effectively, efficiently, timely – and passionately. In preparation for taking that step, consider some of the common reasons that this doesn’t happen in many organizations:
- People don’t know, or don’t really understand the strategy. The “what” and the “how” aren’t clear to them, and the “why” is either not revealed to them or fails to resonate with what they feel is really important.
- People don’t feel connected to the strategy, nor do they feel any real sense of ownership for its execution. To them, the strategy is someone else’s concern. If that strategy involves significant change that affects them, their reactions will range from ambivalence (‘whatever”) to negativity (“um, not gonna happen”).
- People can’t tell whether their efforts are making a difference or not. If their contribution toward success isn’t being measured and fed back, how is anyone to know whether what they are doing is helping or hurting – or making any difference at all? In the absence of encouraging feedback, most will revert to those things with which they are most comfortable – old things, done the old way.
What steps have you taken to make certain that everyone in you organization that can make a difference (and arguably, this is everyone) has been schooled in the strategy?
Town halls, banners, posters and flash cards might be a start, but they won’t get you where you need to be – true clarity of the strategy, including what you aim to accomplish (specific, measurable goals and outcomes), how the organization will make it happen (actions to be taken, including the person(s) driving each and the time by when completion is due) and why it is important.
It’s not an overstatement to say that, when it comes to strategic clarity, it is not possible to communicate too much – however, quantity needs to be balanced with quality. Simply dumping strategic content into the organization will more than likely lead to confusion. Messaging needs to be focused, clearly delivered and, as much as is practical, allowing for conversation and dialogue – even debate.
And don’t assume that people really get it, just because you have told them, explained it, and answered their questions. Test them.
How have you invested in connecting the individuals in your organization to your strategy? To what extent have you answered (or helped them to answer) the question “how does this relate to me?”
Although as leaders there is a tendency to talk in the collective – what we are going to do, what success means to us, how the team is going to work together – the simple reality is that, for the most part, people contribute to the success or failure of the strategy as individuals. When we connect, in a real and tangible way, the work performed and results achieved by individuals to our collective success or failure, it elevates the importance of their work – and of them as contributors.
As time passes, how are you advising the people in your organization on their performance as individuals and of the performance of the total organization?
Success, as is said, breeds further success. Put another way, if we know that what we are doing is getting the desired results, the knowledge helps us channel more energy and focus into that activity, to even greater effect.
Conversely, when what we are doing is not working – or not working well enough, quickly enough or with sufficient efficiency – awareness of that reality positions us to re-think our approach and take different actions to achieve the desired result before it is too late to do so.
In the absence of reliable, quantitative and qualitative feedback, people are in the dark as to whether their efforts are helping or hurting the organization’s performance. Although some might like to operate under the philosophy that “no news is good news”, the fact is that no news is just that – no news. Providing timely feedback on performance using reliable measurements is key to ensuring that everyone is focused on doing the right things, the right way.
Doing all of this consistently, rigorously, efficiently and effectively is a tall order – which goes a long way to explaining why the issue of strategy execution continues to hold top spot in the list of business leaders’ concerns. It also explains why many have tried to do bits and pieces, had only marginal success, and thrown up their hands in surrender.
On the other hand, those who have taken an intelligent and measured approach to tackling the issue, covering the most critical issues first and then moving on from there, have demonstrated how to unlock the power and potential of their organizations. They are the winners.
Richard Gerofsky is a partner at FOCUS Management. He can be reached at 647.272.6561 or