The seven deadly sins of strategy implementation

CEO’s and senior managers are increasingly judged on the success of their companies’ business strategies. Yet, despite the existence of complex strategy formulation processes in many organisations, many corporate strategies fail to actually get implemented. In this brief article, we describe the main pitfalls of successful strategy implementation.

Research by Prospectus Strategy Consultants has revealed that up to 70 per cent of business strategies fail to get fully implemented. The strategy planning process in many organisations is treated with groans rather than cheers. It is seen as a chore that must be endured rather than enjoyed. In many cases, the output of the process, the business strategy fails to get implemented or is implemented in a form, which is quite different from the original intent.

Because of the weakness of over-centralised planning processes and the poor rate of strategy implementation, strategy planning as a major management tool went into decline in the 1980s and early 1990s. The focus of this period was on cost-reduction, downsizing, process re-engineering and increasing operational effectiveness.

However given recent market turbulence and a renewed focus on growth and expansion, strategy and strategic planning are now very definitely back in vogue. If companies are to learn from the inadequacies and failures of strategy planning in the past, organisations need to look at how they formulate their business strategies and, when they are developed, how they go about implementing them.

Strategy is of limited value unless it is acted upon. What can be done to improve the effectiveness of turning strategy into action? As often as not, it is usually the result of an organisations not committing one or more of the ‘‘seven deadly sins of strategy implementation’’.

Deadly Sin one
The strategy is not worth implementing

In too many cases, what is referred to as business strategy, is deficient in analytical rigor, creative insight, ambition or practicality. If the strategy is going to get the active support of management and staff, it needs to be specific, realistic and give the organisation something to strive for. Strategy making is often considered to be easy. It is easy if the strategy development process limits the scope of discovery, the breadth of involvement and the amount of intellectual effort expended. The strategy should not just be more of the same, incremental or comfortable. It needs to be stretching or innovative.

Deadly Sin two
People are not clear how the strategy will be implemented

When the strategy has been developed and evaluated, it then requires a plan to prepare the organisation for its implementation. There is always a strong desire to get started and make the strategy happen. The time spent on implementation planning is often seen as time wasting. However, there are a number of important issues that need to be addressed including:

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