Are You a Strategy 10-Percenter?
I recently came across a disheartening statistic (from an IBM white paper on planning and implementation) that says only 10 percent of organizations manage to successfully implement their strategies on a consistent basis.
My first reaction was, “That can’t be right; that’s too low!” But the more I thought about it, the more it matches my experience working with companies on their strategy and planning issues, and in talking with business leaders around the world. I can’t tell you how many times I hear CEOs and senior managers say, “We’re great at planning, but we can’t seem to follow through.” Which goes back to the old saying, “A well-executed bad strategy will beat a poorly-executed good strategy nearly every time.”
Why do so many plans fail to achieve the desired outcome? While there can be many reasons for implementation breakdown, the IBM paper focused on four critical areas:
- A lack of alignment and focus
- Insufficient access to information
- Absence of a scorecard to measure results
- No process for holding people accountable
On these points, I am in total agreement!
Successfully implementing any strategic plan starts with having a very clear vision of what winning looks like for the organization. Once you have the destination in place, then you have to relentlessly focus on it each and every day. And as a leader, you also have to make sure everyone else stays focused on it until you reach the goal.
Along the way, this requires gathering data from many different sources to stay in touch with changes to your customers, markets, and industry. That way, you can adjust the plan as necessary, and in today’s hyper-paced markets it will be necessary. Then you have to tracks results and hold people accountable for what they’ve committed to getting done.
When I work with clients on creating strategic agility, one of the first things we do is destination modeling. We use neuroprompts to help companies get crystal clear on what winning looks like for their organization in a defined timeframe. Then we move to operationalizing the strategic plan by creating a breakthrough model. Compare your destination with your current state. Based on the gaps between the two, create stepping-stone goals that define what you will do differently for the first three months (incremental), from three to nine months (substantial), and from nine+ months (transformational) to achieve your goals. You have to consider and assess the company’s existing resources and capabilities, and determine what can be accomplished and in what time frame. It helps to be aggressive but realistic when looking at what you can accomplish so you set yourself and others up to win.
Keep in mind that implementing a strategic plan requires change. In particular, it requires people to think differently about what they know to be true within the organization. To help people shift their thinking and their behaviors, outline what will be different in each time frame and why. Then ask questions like:
- Do our current organizational processes and ways of working align with the goals and strategies outlined in the plan?
- As an organization, do we tend to easily get off track?
- Have we created day to day management routines that help keep us focused (i.e. reviews and scorecards)?
- Do short-term problems and opportunities frequently pre-empt and undermine our progress toward longer-term goals and objectives?
- Who in the organization is responsible for staying focused on executing the long-term plan and seeing that others stay focused on it?
- Who is looking across the organization to embed the behaviors and practices necessary to reach the destination into all of the processes of the company?
- Are there consequences when commitments are not met?
The hard part is accepting that operationalizing a plan takes more work than creating it in the first place. Companies invest a lot of time and energy in creating their plans, but then they have a tendency to sit back and wait for them to magically unfold – which helps to explain why we see dismally low 10% implementation rates.
Implementing a strategic plan is a dynamic, fluid, constantly evolving process that requires focused action each and every day. Taking the time and effort to link your plan to who needs to do what by when will greatly increase the odds of reaching your destination. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you fall into the 90% of organizations who get close but never quite reach their goal.
Call to action: Identify one organizational mindset or way of working that gets in the way of implementing your plan. Then determine what you will do differently.