Making strategy stick

I think it was Winston Churchill who stated something to the effect, strategic plans are wonderful things but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a look at the results.

What he was in some ways getting at is that one of the big problems all organisations face is getting strategy executed.  And if you don’t execute it is pretty hard to get results.

Jeroen De Flander, the author of Strategy Execution Heroes noted in his book that:

  • 15% of people believe the strategies are the wrong ones.
  • 30% don’t receive info on how to execute the strategy.
  • 40% believe strategic initiatives are not staffed with the right people.
  • 27% believe strategic initiatives are being managed correctly.
  • 18% are unable to explain how to translate strategy or set individual objectives.

Pretty poor numbers by any measure!

Now couple that to change leadership group Prosci’s research on the impediments to change and you can soon see why so many plans fail to get executed.

They found over many years of research that the biggest obstacles to change are:

  1. Ineffective change management sponsorship from senior leaders
  2. Insufficient change management resourcing
  3. Resistance to change from employees
  4. Middle-management resistance
  5. Poor communication

Major shifts in strategic initiatives require strong change leadership to get them through.  I have been advocating that the whole process can be made easier by involving those who will have to implement the strategies in the development of them.  Of course in large organisations or those widely dispersed over the globe this is not allways practical.  Sensitive change leadership will be a key skill that managers will need to get the strategies into place.

In my experience resistance at middle management has a major bearing on the success or otherwise of the organisation.   Engaging change champions across all levels and locations of the organisation and giving them direct access to senior management goes a long way to lessening this hurdle.   Harness the energy of those seeking change and make it easy for those sitting on the fence to come over to the new thinking.

So just because your team comes up with a great strategy, one that is going to help your business grow and prosper doesn’t mean that the entire team is going to welcome the new direction with open arms.  Have a look at the issues above, work out which apply in your organisation and start implementing activities which will give the new strategic direction the best possible opportunity of seeing the light of day.

The old cliche – failing to plan is planning to fail is only part of the story, failing to plan and manage the implementation is just as big an issue as having no plan at all.



  1. #1 by Amanda Toms on April 15, 2012 - 7:28 am

    It is interesting how organisational focus is always on setting strategy or vision to achieve the competitie advantage.. Where is the how to plan for implementation and better yet, execute the implementation plan with good robust results. I agree with the middle management issue noted however, how do we get senior management (the strategists) to understand that they need to present adequeate “data” and undertake an adequate diagnosis of identifying “the problem” first? Too many Executives expect change to flow down from the Vision or Strategy for outcomes, without adequately diagnosing the problem/s in their organisations in order to deploy the right change management strategy………… perhaps this is the key to implementation?

    I really liked this piece.

    • #2 by groupstrategy on April 15, 2012 - 10:46 am

      Hi Amanda

      Yes I think this certainly is at least one of the keys.

      One of the problems I observe is that middle managers aren’t engaged in the planning process. There are strategists at all levels of the organisation if we just look, ask and listen. If they are engaged then successful implementation is in everyones interests, after all they were part of the team that came up with those objectives. But if they aren’t ………….

      Also we need to ensure when we are planning that we do have all the information we can obtain and that we don’t jump to conclusions before the strategic analysis has been done. Too many people are stuck in mindsets which cause conclusions to be reached that have no sound basis, eg those who believed that computers needed keyboards and missed the tablet revolution or those who believed phones were only for talking on and missed the smartphone revolution or….. there are many examples!


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