The #1 Reason Strategic Execution Fails

When speaking with Vistage members about strategy, the most common complaint is the difficulty of effective implementation. In fact, depending on what report you read, 70-90% of plans that fail do so because of poor execution. Not only that, but plans that “work” only achieve 66% of potential value. Ouch! That is a lot of work for so little gain.

So figuring out how to improve strategic implementation has a big payout. There are many reasons why plans don’t realize their goals. The top reason, accounting for over 7% of the gap is inadequate resources. Reasons 2-10 all have to do with ONE thing, and account for over 30% of diminished results. So if you can only do one thing, do the thing that counts the most: COMMUNICATE!

Most of us think we are pretty good communicators and we get a lot of experience doing it; we are leaders after all and that comes with the job. However, the communication may not be as effective as it could be.

Consistency: An executive I admire for his exemplary leadership, Joe Scarlett, retired CEO of Tractor Supply once told me, “A leaders job is to be a broken record.” Every encounter with an employee is a teaching moment and he used it to reinforce the three things he wanted every employee to know. In order for your strategy to work, what 3 things does every employee need to know? Then tell them the same three things over and over and over. It usually takes 7 times of “hearing” something before we hear it, remember it and internalize it.

Clarity: As you know, many strategies aren’t really very well defined and they are no different than the strategy of half a dozen competitors. Every bank I have ever worked with claimed to excel in customer service but it is rare to find one that actually does something different. Strategy that is not clear can’t be well executed. At best it is subject to individual interpretation if not downright conflicting opinions and projects, competing for the same resources. In fact, a good way to tell whether you have a clear strategy is how much time is spent arguing over budgets. Priorities should be well defined with a clear strategy.

Comprehensive: Too often, not everybody who needs to know, knows what is expected of them. If you host an “all hands” meeting but then send people back to their desks with exactly the same projects, processes and forms to work on, what will have changed? Each person needs to know what is expected of them and how it fits into the whole. Only then can they make an impact and move strategy forward. Don’t forget others outside the company you rely on such as vendors, bankers, or Board members. They have to understand how to help too.

Commitment: A leader must ensure that communication has taken place and is repeated regularly, and the message is consistent. That requires some accountability to walk the talk, hold other managers accountable for doing the same and stick with it long enough to work. Too many employees report that leaders are prone to the flavor of the week, month or year and get distracted by shiny things! Especially our unique breed called entrepreneurs.  Moving fast is admirable, as long as you know where you are headed! Stay the course and give it a chance to work.

One of the ways in which our clients are encouraged to master communication is to create a communication plan as part of the strategic plan, thinking through the key messages, tailoring them to different stakeholder groups, assigning time lines, frequency and accountability for communication. It no longer is an assumption but rather a commitment with as much importance to successful execution as defining budgets or detailing key initiatives.

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