Today we want to talk all about where exactly, even with the best of intentions, executing the strategy goes wrong.
What will often happen with some of my clients is the executive team will go away, they’ll work out a strategy, they’ll unite behind it, they’ll know it backwards, but when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, the wheels come off.
Three main reasons for strategy execution failure
These are three of the biggest problems I’ve found in all of my years dealing with clients on this issue. Most of the time, the reasons seem obvious, but clients don’t really understand the depth and breadth of the problem, and what it’s truly costing them.
1. Trust – vertical and horizontal
I was working with the Chief Operating Officer of a large company and they have operations in multiple countries. We were talking about the speed of change of its cultural and business transformation. The game plan was agreed verbally and in writing. But then, nothing happened.
So I asked, “How much trust do you have with the individuals that will be doing the work?”
“It’s a good relationship. We get on really well.” And I said, “Let’s try putting a different angle on it. How much trust does the executive team have in the staff, or does the staff on site have in the executive team?”
And he replied, “Low. It’s really low.”
This is the problem; there’s a particular layer ‘where we ring the fence’ and it becomes ‘us and them’ – the executive team and the operational leaders and/or staff. In my experience, often, at a particular point in the hierarchy, the vertical trust disappears.
What we want to do is gain greater trust and buy-in two to three layers below the executive team. We want a hundred percent trust in that group vertically. If we can get that, then you’re going to get some rapid movement.
Next is horizontal trust, which is between other members of your team or others in the organisation at your same level. What happens when you don’t have horizontal trust is that people tend to work in silos and they don’t stick to the game plan. They also don’t have trust that they’re being rewarded and incentivised in the same way as other departments or other people.
You cannot ignore trust, either vertically or horizontally; there has to be trust if you want to make change happen.
2. Operating rhythm
This is not just the rhythm of your quarterly off-site or your annual vision strategy session. This is your monthly strategy execution session. Check out Inner Chief Episode 114 and contact me directly if you want a template.
Chief, you have got to get this right. The monthly strategic planning or strategic execution steering committee is critical. If you don’t have that month-to-month meeting where we reviewed the key projects that will drive the strategy, you don’t have project managers being held accountable. It’s going to fall over. We must have both the operations and executions in place.
A number of times I’ve seen executive teams say, “Right, we’re going to have a big transformation piece, but there’s no budget for it. You have to accommodate it in your own day jobs.”
Two things happen.
One, you lose the trust of the people, because you’re not really showing them how serious you are about making this happen. Remember, trust is the prerequisite of success.
And what will then happen is that the operating rhythm will get crushed because people won’t have the time to do the things they need to do on the transformation piece, because they’re already doing their business as usual. And then you come along and lump on extra hours of work per week in order to make transformation happen. So you need some budget to free some people up to do the legwork and the grind.
Cutting corners in execution happens a lot more than you’d expect. If execution of the strategy is the pathway to better business results and cultural change, we just cannot take it easy on the actual execution.
Questions to ask yourself in your own business
So Chief, I want you to look at what’s going on with your business right now and your transformation. It might just be in your department, or it might be across the whole business.
And then ask yourself three questions:
- Where does the trust fall over in the hierarchy? You want it as low in the hierarchy as possible, if at all.
- Have you got the operating rhythm to drive execution success?
- Have you got the right people in the right roles that will drive the strategy forward?
Chief, if you get those three things correct, I guarantee the execution of your strategic plan will be a whole lot easier.