Pop quiz time! Answer this question honestly:
Is it better to have a good strategy you cannot execute or a decent strategy you can execute well?
It’s a tough one, huh? And for a reason! No one wants to compromise on quality, and everyone wants a great strategy that they execute on perfectly.
But unfortunately, many people make a number of common strategy implementation mistakes that lower their chances of reaching strategy nirvana. So, we put our heads together and outlined the five most common mistakes we’ve seen through decades of strategic planning experience—and outlined a solution to each mistake—so you can skip right over these issues.
Mistake #1: “We don’t all have a common understanding of our strategy.”
Take General Electric, for example. GE has a long-standing strategy of being first or second in the industries where they compete. But what does that really mean to them? Do they need acquire to get to that position? Do they need to sell or shut down businesses that are not in that first- or second-place position? And what happens if they are in the first- or second-place position, but they aren’t profitable? Clearly, all of the leaders and managers of GE need to make sure they have the same understanding about what this strategic statement means.
Solution: Create objective statements.
Objective statements range from a few sentences to full chapters of guidelines that describe what your strategy statements mean. You may also want to consider holding workshops or other forms of company-wide communication so everyone remains on the same page. This helps prevent any misunderstandings or unintended consequences.
Mistake #2: “We don’t have buy-in from our executive team.”
On the surface, this may be a head-scratcher. “How can we execute strategy without the executive team?” Believe it or not, you may be guilty of this without even realizing it!
Many organizations turn their strategy over to a small “core team” to measure and manage. But the problem is that this core team—no matter how well-connected in the organization—doesn’t have the power to make strategic decisions and force the organization along. When the leadership team isn’t closely entwined in the process, it is less important to them—but then, for example, they may seem shocked when an annual reporting document doesn’t line up well with their actual strategy. (But they shouldn’t be!)
Alternatively, your organization may not even have a documented strategy. If this is the case, it may be tempting for a core group of people in a division or a department to “reverse-engineer” a loose strategy based on clues from conversations, meetings, or company documents—but don’t do it. This is another strategy implementation mistake. This go-getter team will never get the attention and resources necessary for the strategy to be successful.
Solution: Confront executive involvement head-on.
Strategy is absolutely critical, and the leadership team has to be involved—it’s non-negotiable! It is part of their job. They can delegate some of the nuts and bolts of strategy execution, but they still need to be involved with regular strategy review meetings and be part of the conversation when decisions and resource allocations are made.
Mistake #3: “We created our strategy but haven’t reviewed it since then.”
Let’s face it: Developing a strategy is hard. If done correctly, the leadership team (in conjunction with a facilitator) could easily spend weeks to months developing a five-year strategic plan. Then come the details—goals, measures, and projects included—until it’s all refined, beautified, and added to a neat document formatted with pictures and clip art. In summary, this is no walk in the park.
But one major mistake you could make during strategic implementation is to simply create the strategy and then sit it on a shelf. The leadership team may be so ready to put it away and get back to their other jobs that they’ll be tempted to report on it yearly and revisit it at year five. But if you only look at your strategy once every 365 days, you aren’t giving yourself time to adjust and react to changing conditions. Basically, this is a recipe for failure. Take it from Winston Churchill, who once famously said: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
Solution: Commit to reviewing your strategy on a monthly or quarterly basis.
We highly recommend reviewing parts of your strategy on a monthly basis and reviewing the entire strategy quarterly. Of course, you’ll need to have the right people in the room for this meeting as well—and all of these people will need to be well-prepared. If this is something you feel iffy about, download this all-inclusive management reporting guide as a starting point.
At the end of year two of your five-year strategy, set aside time for an all-day “macro-review” of your strategy. You need to be certain that the goals, measures, and projects you have in place are moving you toward where you want to be!
Mistake #4: “We have little to no accountability with our strategic implementation.”
Perhaps you’ve developed a great strategy that your team is excited about, and you’re ready to execute on it. Then 3-6 months later, it’s time for a strategy review meeting—and you can’t find any of the data you reviewed at that one off-site company meeting. Furthermore, it seems the key projects you discussed then haven’t gone anywhere or even been updated at all.
The reason for this is that no one has taken ownership of the measures or projects, so they don’t feel empowered to take action. In fact, no one has defined the formula or approach to capturing this information in the first place!
Or, perhaps one person (or a small group of people) are trying to take on the responsibility for everything associated with the strategy. They may have decent support from some areas in the organization, but aren’t empowered by leadership and/or every department and simply don’t have the time to bring it all together.
Solution: Ensure that someone on the leadership team owns the objective.
This leader should be responsible for the high-level analysis of your KPIs and the investments in projects that drive change around this part of the strategy. Of course, you should also have clear project managers and analysts to stay on top of collecting and presenting the data—but to make strategy work, the ownership should be spread across the leadership team.
Mistake #5: “We don’t really have high-quality data.”
If you’re going to be making decisions from your data, you should be using high–quality data. But unfortunately, many people don’t spend the time they should to find out where the numbers are coming from and whether they’re accurate. Or they may know the data seems inaccurate, but don’t know where the numbers are coming from—so they can’t do anything about it! Both situations are toxic to a strategy.
Solution: Don’t simply accept the data given to you.
Ideally, someone with the authority to do so (maybe that’s you!) should be charged with creating a data policy. This will likely involve working alongside the IT team to get data structured in a proper format or digging deeper to find where other data sources are at. Finally, you should ensure that anyone who is involved with the strategy understands this data policy (i.e., through a team training on data procedures).
Bottom line? Strategy implementation may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If you implement the solutions above, you’ll end up with a strategy that is created with high-quality data, well-documented, owned by the leadership team, reviewed regularly, and updated with accountability.
And if you’re doing these things correctly, your strategy will become somewhat of a “living process” that is engrained in your organization. This should be your ultimate goal. When those you work alongside consider how the decisions they make will impact the overall strategic vision, you’ll know you’ve nailed your strategic implementation.