Published on 08/24/2016
It is widely known that strategy execution is difficult for many organizations. Evidenced by studies that suggest only 13% of companies effectively execute on their strategies, there is clearly a disconnect between the plan outlined by leadership and the on-the-ground strategy execution by employees on the front-line. This disconnect can have a profound effect on organizational success, as failure to realize strategy often means missed deadlines, lost opportunities, and other more significant repercussions.
Having helped thousands of organizations and teams manage their plans and execute strategies with ease through our software, we have seen the early warning signs of strategy execution struggles in many organizations. Below is a list of seven of the most common struggles we see, and how to fix them.
7 Signs of Poor Strategy Execution
1. Lack of a Clear and Defined Direction
Problem: If your organization seems to have a beehive of activity, but stakeholders are merely busy for busy’s sake, you may be suffering from a lack of a clear and defined direction. As a manager, take a moment to ask your team members what they are working on, and why. If the “Why” behind their work does not align with your strategic priorities or the underpinning of your operating plan, there are probably clarity issues regarding your organization’s direction and priorities.
Solution: Have a team meeting at the beginning of each month designed to discuss the month’s projects and priorities. Explain the importance, each stakeholder’s role in those priorities, and how each is contributing to the strategy execution. Communication early and often is fundamental to clarity.
2. Poor Communication Across Stakeholders
Problem: When stakeholders systematically fail to communicate across departments, we say the organization has a Silo Mentality. Most projects span multiple stakeholders, and require participation and coordination across the organization. But very often, each department completes their duties in a project and passes it along to the next, leading to the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. This leads to delays, priorities falling through the cracks, and a general lack of organizational cohesion.
Solution: Leaders should look for ways to stimulate communication and conversation between departments on shared projects. Establishing regularly scheduled cross-departmental meetings, or implementing a shared system of records for project management and strategy execution (that includes collaboration features) are two effective ways of combating the Silo Mentality.
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3. Frequently Missing Deadlines for Deliverables
Problem: Timely execution of initiatives is paramount to a highly efficient and effective organization. When deadlines across departments are frequently being missed, and the organization has become complacent in regards to those missed deadlines, everyone is on a slippery slope headed toward organization wide failure. Accountability to deadlines is important, and leaders should do all they can to promote it.
Solution: In addition to establishing clear and firm deadlines, leaders should stimulate conversation with involved stakeholders on a regular basis. Deadlines are often missed because a lack of coordination or something falling through the cracks. By having an open and frequent conversation about deliverables, teams can ensure everything is on-track for an on-time strategy execution delivery.
4. Lack of Delegation
Problem: The mark of an effective leader is his/her ability to mobilize and coordinate team members around shared objectives. When a leader can effectively divide tasks among team members, the speed of strategy execution greatly increases. But when a leader feels he/she needs to shoulder the entirety of a project, out of a lack of trust or otherwise, the whole organization suffers. Being a coordinated, well-oiled machine is the mark of a truly great organization.
Solution: Teams should look to break down large, longer-term initiatives into smaller project increments to gain an understanding into what will be required for effective strategy execution. When tasks can be easily identified, they can be easily delegated. Without atomizing the plan, delegation is extremely difficult.
5. High Levels of Bureaucracy
Problem: This symptom is especially prevalent in larger organizations with multiple levels of reporting and management. It often takes too much time to make decisions, is too arduous to get approvals for resources, and is too difficult to navigate the “chain of command.” Organizations don’t necessarily have to be flat to achieve strategy execution efficiency, but leadership must understand where to draw the line when it becomes apparent that bureaucracy is hindering organizational progress.
Solution: When a plan is conceptualized and rolled out for strategy execution, it is important for leadership to have a clear conversation with the relevant managers about the specifics of bringing the plan to fruition. The goal should be to give as much decision making power to the managers as possible, including authority to approve budget and reallocate resources when appropriate. Reducing red tape before strategy execution commences will save a tremendous amount of time throughout.
6. Acceptance of Poor Performance or Failure to Deliver on Objectives
Problem: It is an unfortunate reality in organizations that, on occasion, employees or teams fail to meet expectations within a plan. Leaders shouldn’t worry too heavily about one-off strategy execution failures, but when failure to deliver starts becoming systemic, it is important for all stakeholders to catalyze around fixing the underlying issue.
Solution: As mentioned above, an occasional missed deadline is not reason for serious reprimand. However, when an employee or team repeatedly fails to deliver, then action needs to be taken. Ranging from one-on-one coaching or remediation sessions, to reassignment to other organizational priorities. The most important thing you can do though is act, as ignoring the problem will most certainty have far-reaching consequences.
7. Excessive Change in Strategic Priorities
Problem: Above all other symptom, this one may be the most destructive to the organization’s morale and strategy execution. When leadership adopts a “flavor of the month mentality,” meaning they make decisions for strategic change on gut feelings rather than empirical data, employees can be left feeling confused, frustrated, and unappreciated. When a plan is communicated to team members, it is important to let is run its course, and many stakeholders are working hard to bring it to fruition. When priorities change often, rework become commonplace and time is wasted.
Solution: Simply put, when you make a plan, stick with it for at least a quarter before turning the battleship. Unless there is blatant evidence that change is necessary, leaders should always be cautious about changing direction based on gut feelings. Patience is important throughout organizations, especially when multiple people are involved in strategy execution of complex plan elements. Success takes time – So ensure your decision-making processes follow this tenet.
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