The hard yards in the strategy process is in the implementation. The interesting bit [creating strategy] is in the analysis of markets, competitors and the internal workings and resources of a business. Its great setting goals and getting a team focused on a clear vision of the future. The difficult bit, is in the relentless maintenance of rolling out the strategy implementation tasks every day, every week and every month – for a few years. Often this is where strategy comes unstuck. Why?
After consulting in strategy for over two decades, a few of the obvious reasons appear to me as:
1. Too little, too late
If the strategy created is now out of date because of delays to get it going. Costs have escalated or weren’t accurate in the first place. Alternatively, the people or person who championed the strategy process are now distracted or working elsewhere. The worst is when money is spent attending workshops and the business leaders weren’t that interested or convinced to start with. It seemed like a good idea at the time or it now looks like a hell of lot of work.
2. Lift off
Some teams simply don’t know how to get started. They don’t know how to collate, package and simplify the presentation of tasks and get the show on the road. People need to be inspired and empowered to create change and to do different things differently and well. Old habits need to die and that’s hard. Politics and culture too are age old enemies.
Control systems need to be clear from the start and methods of resolving problems and potential conflict are needed. Unclear aspects to a strategy may need explaining or people may need training if they don’t yet have adequate skills to do the necessary. Sometimes, this work before ‘lift off’ is a project in itself and if not done, handbrakes the launch of the roll-out and the strategy implementation.
3. Bad effort
If a strategy created is seen as suspect and lacks credibility and is now mooted to be riddled with or even have a few material errors and omissions – and the leaders now don’t have the time, energy or money to start over, strategy implementation is unlikely.
Alternatively, some credible concerns may have been raised regards whether the strategy to be implemented is the appropriate one. A significant amount of time and money will have been invested and if the strategy is materially wrong or implemented incorrectly, the cost and damage could be huge. Consequently, some may now feel that the strategy created best be independently audited by a professional.
This poor effort is known in the trade as ‘bad strategy.’
4. Good effort
The roll-out of a strategy may be inspiring and may empower all involved. If done professionally, it is very rewarding to see. In my experience, a good strategy effort takes practice and one gets better over time – never perfect as its a moving target. Its normal that when a team has a good idea about how strategy works and knows what to do and when – they have normally done a part of the strategy process a few times before in some shape or form. It is far easier for teams when they have had their experience as a unit before and not having gathered their experience piecemeal elsewhere, as individuals.
New opportunities may have presented themselves and it is wise to give instructions on a feasibility report for capital expenditure to assess the potential risk and reward. A due diligence report may be needed to consider if its cheaper to buy a company rather than duplicating it. Professional opinion may still be necessary as no matter what, the business environment is always in a state of change.
5. Great effort
Teams that have done strategy many times before, know the value of spending time in advance planning their direction and getting the analysis of the data and numbers right. Also, getting all those involved to contribute and ‘buy in’ to what needs to be done. These teams get performance standards and rewards clear to all from the outset, so all involved can evaluate, ask and know whats required at what cost to themselves and the business. They also know how to make meetings work, how to lead from the front and how to seamlessly change direction or poor performance.
These teams all know they don’t worship the strategy as something cut in stone. So much changes on the way, they understand it is their duty to review and revise relentlessly. They know that problems must be detected early so performance reviews and ongoing environmental reviews are critical. There is much on the go and all involved must be on top of their game. Only good management will ensure this. This great effort is known in the trade as ‘good strategy.’
Those that are not inherently good managers, need to get help. Those that don’t want to be helped or be good managers, should work elsewhere or if they are the owners, should avoid strategy in any shape or form. Strategy is about change. Humans are primarily change and risk averse, so getting more than a few people to do one or both, takes some management effort.
Have you been willing and able to put in the necessary effort?
* If so…well done! I applaud you for your courage and commitment. May your rewards multiply and soon far outweigh the cost.
* If not, is it not time you changed this choice, before its too late?
Your comments made below, that provide food for thought, will be hugely appreciated.