By Michael Ncube
STRATEGY failure is a phenomenon whereby an organisation’s desired plans and goals and objectives fail to be achieved as per set plan. Depending on the size of the organisation, a great deal of time is spent on preparing a “Strategy.”
In some cases, managers travel long distances to a selected venue where strategy setting is done. Others do it locally in their organisation premises.
The importance of a business strategy cannot be overemphasised for a business strategy encapsulates the vision, mission and dreams of an organisation which then gets consolidated in a Business Plan document. Normally that document will have at its end the Budget that shows performance in numbers and ratios.
Whilst in the past, Strategy has been associated with larger organisations it is encouraging that small to medium organisations are now warming up to the importance of having a strategy in place. Smaller entities used to be run by rule of thumb whereby the owner alone knew everything but usually will not have a plan for the business in the long term.
Formulating a strategy helps to navigate the future as much as understanding the now in the business environment. A properly crafted business strategy anticipates the changes and vagaries that may spring up in the course of doing business- and these are many. One is in better standing when you were anticipating something rather than being taken in an ambush as it were when things suddenly change.
After the strategy session ends, voluminous booklets are produced with all the beautiful and colourful pie charts, graphs, trend analysis. If you look at those booklets/manuals, one just has to respect the amount of work that is put into producing them. It therefore boggles the mind to see that all those ideas in the booklets do not see the light of the day. Surely strategic sessions are not just rituals done annually to fulfill a calendar.
In this discussion, we will look at some of the reasons why strategy fails. A number of scholars generally point to reasons which I concur fully with. Let’s ventilate them:
1. Lack of buy-in from the team
You cannot execute a strategy alone! Indeed, as the owner of your strategic plan, you should really be one of the least important people when it comes to execution. Why? Because ideally, you will keep yourself at arms-length from much of the delivery to allow you to retain perspective and a strategic lens. This only serves to heighten the importance of team buy-in.
A common mistake here is to underestimate the size of your ‘team’ when it comes to having them buy into the plan. If you have a team of 5, things are fairly easy – all 5 need to be bought in. If you have a team of 50 – things get trickier. Often, we see strategy leads doing a great job of gaining support from their immediate colleagues and direct reports, but a lousy job of ensuring that support cascades throughout the organisation.
Before you get to the communication stage, you need to start gathering feedback and inviting contributions from your team into any new strategic plan. Make sure that the first time your team hears about the plan isn’t when it’s finished!
Use tools like surveys, meetings, and face to face discussions to gather feedback from your whole organisation on topics like:
– The organisation’s strengths and weaknesses
– How do they feel about the current Vision of the organisation
– Who they admire in the industry (competitors) and why
Schedule regular strategy sessions with your team, and stick to them. Failure to address a lack of buy-in early is the single biggest reason why strategic plans fail!
2. Unclear Objectives
Strategic planning is both easy and hard. Coming up with ideas about what your organisation needs to do and knowing how to do it aren’t usually a problem. Clearly structured plans with well-written objectives are much rarer than they should be.
As such, we will only cover the basics here. Generally, well-written objectives are those which:
– Have a clear link to the Vision of the organisation
– Contain a clear action (a verb), a metric where possible, as well as a tightly defined window of execution (a start and end date)
– Have a single owner or captain – others can collaborate of course, but a single owner avoids ambiguity
– Are reported on a bare minimum of monthly at a regular strategy session or board meeting
3. Failure to Account for Business as Usual (BAU)
Pragmatism is a key part of any successful plan. Often when organisations create new plans, they get caught up in the excitement of the ‘new’ and forget to allow enough time to manage existing business activities.
Managing clients and such-like may not form part of the high-level organisational goals – but I’m pretty sure that ‘Client Satisfaction’ would. Just be careful not to write your new plan to ‘fit’ against your BAU – define what you want to achieve/change first, then see how BAU goals fit into this.
4. Loss of Momentum
We have alluded to this already, but so often with strategic plans, we see a great deal of enthusiasm at the start of the process, followed by a gradual tailing off and return to business as usual.
Delivering against all of the points above (and below) will help immensely in making sure this doesn’t happen to you – but here are a few other tips you can employ to stop your plan from falling into a black hole.
5. Unwillingness to Iterate
Another vote for pragmatism here. It is pretty unlikely that you’ll get your strategic plan 100% perfect on the first attempt. Smart leaders constantly have their ear to the ground, listening to threats and opportunities and moving quickly to adjust plans accordingly. Your strategy should be no different.
Think of your plan as a living breathing thing. It’s one of the reasons that cloud systems are becoming so popular for strategic planning because rather than creating and printing a plan then putting it on a wall somewhere, they encourage you to constantly adjust and tweak the plan in a real-time environment.
All of that said, you do need to avoid changing the plan so much or so regularly that you lose credibility with your people. Changes should be iterative rather than dramatic. On only very rare occasions should you be looking to make changes to your Vision, Values, or Focus Areas.
6. Lack of Alignment
Effectively communicating your strategic plan isn’t the same thing as ensuring alignment. Alignment means that everyone in the organisation can clearly (and accurately) articulate how their own set of goals and tasks are contributing to the strategic plan. Measuring alignment can be hard if you’re using manual strategy and goal tools such as Excel or even pen and paper. But nonetheless measurement must be done.
Even without a system to help, you need to ensure that whenever you meet with your people to discuss their goals – you’re constantly challenging them as to the why of what they’re doing – not just the how or the what.
7. Failure to Celebrate Success
Last but certainly not least, is one of the nicest and most rewarding (but so often overlooked) things that you can do to successfully deliver your plan. Celebrate!
Sometimes we get so caught up in the doing and the final outcome, that we fail to recognize the great things we achieve along the way. By celebrating success in delivering our strategy, we reinforce a culture that highlights the importance of strategy to the whole organisation.
Don’t be too finicky about ‘who’ gets to celebrate – this needs to be a whole-team celebration, even if one person or team did more than the rest. Why? Because the whole point of this article is that it is your team who will deliver your strategy, not one single person.
Michael Ncube PhD is a Business Consultant and Thought Leader .A seasoned accountant with a flair in Strategy Implementation, accounting systems, Taxation and business operational efficiency. .He writes in his own capacity. The views given herein are personal. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and on Whatsapp 0779375484.