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Avoid the Five Routes to Strategic Failure

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Disconnects are a big cause of strategy failure. You think you've communicated well, then find out you have—just not to your target audience. Or maybe at the end of a long research session, you realize that input from colleagues in the company's Ohio office was critical to your strategy, yet was overlooked in favor of input from more-assertive colleagues in the New York office.

There are five major disconnects that consistently trip up strategy implementation:

1. A Noninclusive Interpretation Process

Everyone should be familiar with this one. You spend lots of time doing an audit, gathering data, and refining your questioning. There's a lot at stake, and you have included and filtered and are ready to present data that you know will make the difference in getting the strategy implemented. Things look good.

But wait. You were less than inclusive in vetting the relevance and meaning of that data as perceived by the VPs in the organization. Or the strategy is budget-intensive and no one from Finance was included in your information-gathering. Maybe you purposely didn't include Jay, your mortal enemy, even though you knew he held valuable information, because you thought it might derail acceptance of the strategy.


The cost. When the right people aren't included in the decision-making process, context gets lost. Key decision-makers don't understand the situation. Impractical approaches get used. The "wrong" problem gets fixed.

Make certain you include people from the appropriate levels and business units within the organization, some who are new to the organization, and several who have been with the company long enough to know "where the bodies are buried." And be sure to include any expected naysayers.

2. Ideas That Aren't Vetted

Ideas are great except when they're not checked to ensure that they're in concert with the realities of the organization. When they aren't, the strategy is resisted at all levels, wreaks havoc, and simply doesn't work.

The cost. This kind of error results in impractical approaches to solving a problem and conflicting guidelines. And what was supposed to solve issues ends up creating issues of its own.

Reality-check your ideas. Kick them around using "What if?" scenarios. Press them to a yes or no. Make sure the departments or business units that are advocating the idea are known, as well as those that are soundly against it. This kind of checking in before moving forward will go a long way toward identifying barriers and providing information that will help you "socialize" the vetted ideas.

3. Missing Practical Steps for Strategy Support

A strategy needs support to work. When people in an organization don't understand which practical steps need to be taken to ingrain the strategy within the company culture, the strategy can fail.

Support may mean establishing internal messaging that reminds people that the strategy is important to revenue generation. If it affects partners, the channel group may need to be given specific responsibilities that will make the strategy effective. Communication is a critical part of getting people to understand the value that results from supporting the strategy.

The cost. When various functional groups take different approaches, conflict can occur. This usually results in frustration and malaise—which contribute to the strategy's failure.

Do the legwork first—know what actually needs to be done, who needs to be brought into the circle of influence, and who will not be supporting the strategy. If notification is important, do it multiple times in multiple ways. Get real and basic.

4. Executive Vision vs. the People's Vision

Sometimes a gap occurs in organizations. Top-level executives see the organization's future in one way, while those in the midlevel and lower levels of the organization see an entirely different set of possibilities. If the two groups are out of alignment, the strategy's execution suffers.

The cost. Poor decisions are made by midlevel employees. Money is wasted; time is lost. In this kind of scenario, the employees become alienated.

Know and articulate the costs to those within all levels of the organization. If the strategy is communicated from the top down, make sure there is solid reasoning that will lead to buy-in from the rest of the organization. If the strategy is being generated from the bottom up, make sure it's reasonable from the C-level executives' point of view and that there is an appropriate financial rationale.

5. Limited Commitment

Even if commitment to a strategy exists at the top, it may not spread throughout the organization. A CEO alone can't carry a strategy. People in the organization must take ownership of the strategy and help champion it.

The cost. Misalignment appears among groups. Tension over issues that seem to be about "people" will appear. Actually, the friction is caused by the need to change current operating practices or business models.

Internal communication is every bit as important as external communication. When launching a strategy, it's even more important. If your people aren't aligned with the cause, they won't implement it and results don't occur. Define and clearly communicate each person's role in the strategy.

* * *

Under the best of circumstances, implementing a new strategy is a challenge for organizations. Avoid the five major strategy disconnects and take a new approach to winning.


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Nilofer Merchant is the CEO of Rubicon Consulting (www.rubiconconsulting.com), a strategy and marketing consultancy based in Silicon Valley that solves complex business challenges for high-tech companies.

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  • by SarahResults Smith Tue Jun 9, 2009 via web

    Coming from the ad/marcomm agency world, I can immediately relate to the challenges agencies have in strategically positioning themselves. When addressing a client's problem, they'll typically reach across all audiences and stakeholders for input. Yet for their own brand, they'll not look beyond their own walls to survey those clients they've won, and lost. Right out of the shoot they've violated #1, the need for an inclusive interpretation process. As Maslow, self-examination can lead to greater self-actualization and greater success.

    SarahResults
    http://twitter.com/SarahResults

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