Strategy: Why don’t things get done?

Strategy: Why don't things get done

It’s a great strategy, but why isn’t anything getting done?

OK, so you’ve crafted a great strategy, one that you’re proud of and that you’re sure will win.  You’ve been working hard on it and you’ve communicated the strategy and its critical actions out through the organisation’s usual channels.

Problems with strategy implementation

But here’s the problem. You’re one quarter into implementation and nothing seems to be happening? What’s going on and what’s getting in the way?

This is an all too common situation. To throw some light on this and find some answers I’ll reflect both on my own experience and research[1] to find the clues. So, here are seven potential culprits:

#1:  It’s not personal. By this I mean that the strategy doesn’t appeal, at an individual level, to the people who have got to do it, to make it work. This is much more than just involving people in the strategy process and usual established communication routes. We should all be doing these things. What I’m talking about is tying the strategy to the deep-seated needs of those who have to implement it. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a very useful starting point. But don’t jump to looking at motivators right at the top of the hierarchy (such as esteem and self-actualisation); in these uncertain times, lower-level issues such as security and social needs may be far more important.  With all the growing doubts and worries in the world regarding economic growth, geo-political frictions and even the onward march of robotics, I have a strong feeling that ensuring your strategy delivers to these lower, foundation levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy will be an issue of growing importance in the coming months and years.

#2:  Decisions, decisions.  Implementation is about making decisions. But do the implementers have the authority to make the required decisions? Have authority (and referral) levels been clearly defined? Critically, do staff know what specific decisions and actions they will have to make to implement the strategy?

#3: Confidence and trust?  It’s one thing giving people the authority to make decisions – but are they personally confident that they can make the right decisions? Or are they worried that they don’t have the right skills (and might be too scared to ask for help). Or are they worried that they’re not trusted and that any minute now their decisions are going to be questioned?

#4: Impact.  From my experience, it’s amazingly common to discover that staff responsible for strategy implementation at the business level don’t understand the real impact of their decisions, not just on profitability, but in terms of meeting other critical demands such as customer satisfaction, business efficiency and even personal learning and development.

#5: Information.  Have the decision-makers got the up to the minute information they need to make decisions? Or is this information held only in Head Office? Or, more typically, is information held in fragments across organisational silos rather than being shared right across the organisation?

#6: Where are we?  Unless everyone has clear milestones to success and they can see the progress that they’re making on a regular basis towards business goals and therefore their own deep motivators (see point #1 above), then it’s unlikely that we’re going to get the action the we need.

#7: Importance of time.  There are two aspects here. The first is do people really have the time to do the implementation work? If staff are already stressed out nothing will happen. The really great managers that I’ve had the privilege of working with took time to get close to business-level staff and understand what their work demands were. Implementation takes time and we have to be sure that staff have access to the quality time needed for this critical task. The second dimension is basic day-to-day time management. It’s surprising how many people’s actions are driven not by strategic priorities but by their email inbox. A little help with time management might do wonders.

So, if things don’t seem to get done, I hope these pointers will help you discover the obstacles.

[1] Neilson, G. L.., Martin, K. L. and Powers, K. (2008) The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution. Harvard Business Review. June 61-70.

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