Making Strategy Work
I have seen brilliant ideas fall to the way side because of poor communication and execution. But whose fault is it?
Often there are many casualties along the way. A poorly executed strategy can cost the company huge sums of money and time. Many people get hurt along the way because those entrusted with the responsibility of cascading down the strategy sometimes fail to do so properly. In retrospect when we look back at a missed opportunity, most of us know what went wrong, where the link was broken.
So, how do we make it work? Perhaps if we took a look at some of the key elements of strategy execution we can avoid some of the common pitfalls:
Pitfall #1 : All facets of senior leadership are not involved in the execution
Often, strategy execution is tied into the core business and is known to the people who are directly linked with it. Many support functions like finance and other support services are sometimes left out, misinformed or ill-prepared to handle the change. This has an impact on the organisation because these people can sometimes stand in the way of a smooth strategy execution. HR needs to play an active role in large-scale strategic implementations and they can only do that if they are connected to the ground. Things that seem like great ideas in the boardroom and on paper sometimes are not executable on the ground. There is nothing more frustrating for business owners than to work with support functions who are not on the "same page".
Pitfall #2 : Insufficient skills at leadership level
It’s hard to admit but sometimes senior leaders who are in charge of strategy execution don’t necessarily have all the skills needed. Just because they are there by position, it doesn’t mean that they are able to do the job. Many opportunities are lost in the corporate world because these people either don’t call for relevant support or are ignorant to the fact that they need additional skill support to manage specific implementations. Not all senior managers are strategic. Unfortunately, operational excellence – the very thing that gets managers promoted to senior levels is what gets them into trouble within senior leadership roles, especially if they don’t make the transition from operations to strategy. Questions need to be asked about the capability of the people entrusted with strategy execution at senior levels, in the same way that it would get asked at other levels throughout the organisation. Many good people leave organizations because they get frustrated with the lack of vision and poor “buy in” at senior leadership level.
Pitfall #3 : Poor training and usually done after the fact
Naturally a change in direction or strategy means that its time to update skills and acquire/even revisit certain skills. This is often done later down the track instead of before the start of process. A gap analysis of skills required to carry out a strategy needs to be conducted and the people involved need to be shown the gaps. Most people want to do a good job and will skill up if they knew they what was in store for them. They need to be shown this by the people who are entrusted with the "big picture". But more important than training is communication!
Pitfall #4 : Lack of communication and dialogue at all levels
Conference calls and town hall meetings do not ensure that communication has been received and all questions answered.
Simon Sinek spoke about the importance of starting with "why" at a TED.com talk. He is absolutely right in that most people have got it inside out. They start with what they do, how they do it and then there is a small mission statement somewhere about why they are doing what they do.
If people doing the task understood why they had to do something, it will make the task a lot more palatable. And we all know that a communication is not received until it has been "received". I happen to believe that good leaders talk about their mission at every opportunity they get. Good managers talk about it and demonstrate it several times a day.
This is particularly relevant in today’s workplace where there is so much "noise". Whist its easy for an employee to read about the company's goals and aspirations, the mission and strategy of any organisation only comes alive when someone in a leadership talks about it and reinforces it. The process of embracing change also means having to let go something of the past. This is sometimes hard because it creates a level of uncertainty and instability. Anticipating these roadblocks and working with teams in a constructive manner with a planned communications strategy is key.
Most people know what do at work and how to do it, but what gets them to work day in and day out sits inside the question “why”. When we know the reason why we are doing something, it gives us an extra boost and strength to forge ahead.
The other question: "why this …and not that?"
Sometimes at work we get into a rut or too close to how things are done that we don't ask this question any more. New inventions are born out this type of questioning coupled with an open-minded leader who is willing to entertain these types of questions. This is because these types of questions open our minds to new possibilities. Any strategy is not a strategy if it is rigid, there needs to be some flexibility and room to maneuver and adjust according to feedback received.
Alignment and congruence
At the end of the day, a strategy can only come to fruition if there is alignment at all levels and if everyone involved is doing things that are supportive of the overall strategy. Alignment to me, means seeing everyone collectively as "us" and congruence means living the mission daily. Reminds me of a quote by Peter Drucker, "Management is doing the right things, leadership is doing things right.".