The Strategist

Three myths about implementing business strategies

03/05/2021 - 04:42

Organisations spend a lot of time meticulously developing strategic plans to compete successfully in the marketplace. However, most executives estimate the success rate of these plans to be between 25% and 35% at best, while less optimistic experts cite a very low figure of 10%. Why is it so difficult?

Myth 1: Execution means sticking to the plan

Mike Tyson summed up his attitude towards enemy strategy brilliantly: "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.

Strategic plans do not always survive a clash with reality. Creating a portfolio of strategic initiatives to ensure the strategy's success is part of the typical strategic planning process for most companies. These initiatives entail the commitment of human and financial resources, and once adopted, companies are often reluctant to change anything about them.

However, strategy implementation requires flexibility, i.e. the ability to grasp and respond to change, making both small and significant changes to their strategy. Companies must also be flexible in reallocating human and financial resources to seize opportunities. People with a fixed mindset, who treat plans as if they were carved in stone and are unwilling to adjust them, will pay dearly to implement what does not fit the new realities.

Myth 2: Implementation is all about consistency

An almost irrefutable business truth is that it is essential to achieve consistency or, more simply, to "get everyone rowing in the same direction". Consistency is undoubtedly a worthy goal, but the problem is often with implementation.

Many companies, despite good intentions, quickly turn the process into a top-down directive, where top management proposes a series of seemingly important tasks and imposes them on the organisation, with no regard for how staff will perform those tasks. In this situation, execution suffers: individual business units and organisational units create goals that are in line with management's goals, but do not take into account the interests of other groups and teams. Forced cascading creates 'functional wells' (acting solely in their own interests) and this makes cross-functional collaboration difficult.

Myth 3: Performance culture drives implementation

If you ask executives to characterise competition in their industries, they are likely to name adjectives such as 'strong', 'intense' and 'fierce'. The relentless pursuit of performance is justified when you are trying to differentiate yourself from the competition. In some cases, performance is so important that failure can be your bane, and everyone wants to avoid it at all costs. Mistakes and failures are covered up and the 'blame game' is played with great fervour, with the organisation quickly falling foul of the trend.

There is a balance to be struck when it comes to building a culture, as with anything else. Performance is important, but so are flexibility, teamwork, collaboration and justifiable risk-taking. In order to stimulate realisation, so-called failures need to be discussed openly. In fact, failures are sources of data that need to be studied, learned from, and used to improve processes in the future.

Based on “Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs” by Paul R. Niven and Ben Lamorte

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