An Outstanding Truth

Nine out of ten strategies fail to be implemented successfully.

This is the outstanding truth that business leaders around the world have been ignoring. For 40 years since change management first became a business topic we have been blindly following the same recipe for failure! It is an outstanding truth because it creates a tremendous opportunity for the one in ten companies who get it right. It is a blue ocean strategy. A differentiator that can reap rewards as the payoff is tremendous when successful, but it requires a shift in the way leaders approach strategy and in their fundamental beliefs.

A large part of the problem is that leaders are habitually underestimating the challenge of strategy implementation. After doing the hard work of crafting the right strategy they feel that the toughest part is over and they have done their job. Many delegate the implementation and take their eye of what needs to be done. After all let’s be honest, being invited by your CEO to help create the company’s future is perceived as flattering, an opportunity to prove oneself, which could lead to promotion. Being invited by your CEO to help implement the strategy is often perceived as laborious and even a punishment. Consider though it is not strategy that creates revenue but the implementation.

It is time to change our thinking about strategy. Even the most remarkable strategy is not worth the paper it is written on, if it is not implemented successfully.

It is time to change our thinking about implementation. Successful implementation, though not rocket science, does take discipline and structure. It is about doing many right things all at once.

It is time to change our thinking about change. Many organizations end up back to business as usual within 12 months of launching a new strategy!

In the recent years, implementation has started to become a recognized field in its own right. Articles are starting to appear in leading business journals and magazines. There have just been several books written on the subject and most importantly, leaders are now recognizing the need to focus their energies not just on crafting strategy but also on implementing it.

The work I do globally on implementing strategy with Governments and Multi National Companies allows me to continue to study what the one in ten, who are successful do differently. Every successful implementation is unique. There are, however, four common lessons to be learned.


Key Lessons

1. Leaders need to change their thinking. Implementation will probably be tougher than you expect. Underestimating the challenge, as most do, is both costly and damaging to their business. The hard work done by leaders in crafting the strategy is lost and failed implementation can also lead to declining sales and market share. Successful implementation begins with an effective strategy. This is a given. Implementation, however, requires greater leadership focus. In a recent Harris poll 66% of CEOs interviewed from a set of US companies said that “skill at execution level had to be improved”. Reflect in the past how much time you have allocated to crafting strategy in your diary to how time you spent on its specific implementation, (this does not include daily operational issues).

2. Many implementations involve leaders returning to their offices after creating their strategy and being left to their own devices to work out next steps. They are required to figure out how to inform the people in their division of the imminent changes; explain what needs to change and why; review the way the team is working; ensure that the current rewards and recognition systems support the new strategy; motivate their people and not only assess the current measures being used but also report back to their peers. It is a multitude of activities that creates a maze that many leaders get lost in. If they do not have a clear way of thinking they typically delegate the responsibility to either internal or external consultants. They need to be, however, cognizant that it is their responsibility. What is missing is a framework that helps them achieve their articulated objectives.

Bridges, (the company I founded) after five years of research developed The “Implementation Compass” – a proprietary tool that provides leaders with the structure to make their strategy come alive by identifying the right actions to be taken for implementation. See sidebar. What guidance do you provide to your teams to assist them in implementation and to ensure you are setting them up for success and not failure?

3. As you implement strategy, you move from theory to practice, from planning to action and from concept to execution. The critical question becomes, “What are the actions you need to take?” A simplistic question in nature but in practice the driver of successful implementation because successful implementation is all about identifying the right actions to take and then ensuring they are done and create the right results. Fortune magazine claimed the best practice among the best CEOs is that they follow up. At the start of every meeting they check that the actions were taken from the last and that the right outcomes were achieved. It is the actions that you take every day in your business that either move you closer to your strategy or further away. What actions do you encourage your staff members to perform and are they moving you a few steps towards your successful implementation?

4. Implementation never goes according to plan. This is because there are too many factors that influence it. Customer expectations change, as do markets and the competition. Internally there will always be staff turnover, operational issues and new challenges to overcome. It is therefore critical that you closely monitor the implementation and address unanticipated problems as they arise. Implementation without proper reviews is like the man falling from a 30 storey building. At each floor someone asks him how he is doing and he replies, “So far looking good|!”

If you identify small problems and address them before they grow into big problems you will stay on the right track. If you don’t review implementation regularly then you will not know what you don’t know. Conduct reviews of your implementation every two weeks and ask, what are our goals, what actions are we taking to achieve them and what do we need to do different?

Implementation is a business differentiator. It is the difference between success and failure and can no longer be ignored. If nine out of ten companies fail to implement strategy then by correcting your implementation you create outstanding results.

Robin Speculand is an international specialist in implementing strategy. He is the CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy Int, President of BRIM, the Singapore think tank and bestselling author of the book “Bricks to Bridges – Make Your Strategy Come Alive”.

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What is missing today is a framework that allows leaders to assess how ready the company is to implement its new strategy and also a tool that guides the right actions on a multidimensional playing field. Implementation Compass™ identifies the actions you need to take today to deliver long-term performance.

  1. The Implementation Compass works for both small and large organizations
  2. Allows you to assess your current status in preparing to implement.
  3. The Compass guides leaders through the eight critical directions. The degree of importance of each varies for each organization. For example, one organization may spend more time on measurement while another focuses more on communication.
  4. The Compass helps your organization maintain momentum throughout its journey.

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