In our private lives, we set out personal goals and objectives. Within a family, there are expectations — be it nuclear or extended (depending on the social mores of a place). Every head of the family or a single parent, wish for a certain outcome. And, Oh Yes, the wise ones know that things don’t go as expected.
Imagine a racing car on the track, no matter how well tuned or powerful it may be, without a conscientious driver behind the wheel, will not get to the finishing line. (I am aware there are now driverless vehicles in the offing, by the way).
Likewise plotted flight charts alone won’t carry aircraft passengers to their planned destination. There must be capable pilots in the cockpit whose job is to take them to their destination safely.
But how come many organizations don’t get to where they have planned, despite the best of strategies?
What makes them fail to achieve their strategic goals? I will not quote a specific figure of the failure rate here, as research findings differ widely. However a finding of the collective rates can be looked up at researchgate.net 
In my reckoning, there are two major reasons why strategic plans fail.
- The bossy mindset of some CEOs, decision-makers and leaders and
- a nonexistent system of execution or implementation to meet the set-goals.
The bigger the organization gets, the tendency that some top executives over-delegate and fail. They wait behind the big oak table, expecting the organizational structure to drive itself to its destination.
But leaders need to be more involved. Though this is not to support micro-managing.
If you send your kids to school, that is a responsible undertaking as a parent. But it is a smart thing for a wise parent to pay occasional visits to the school; to ask questions and get more information. The periodical result cards are not enough to make full and accurate judgement on the progress of that kid.
Some leaders would rather wait to react to an unfavorable outcome. Unfortunately this is a fatalistic mindset. And it is also an unprofitable way to get results, more so in our fast-changing world. And no organization is spared of failure, if it cannot institute a proper implementation system in agreement with its top executives and the rest of the workforce. It is better to be active rather than being reactive.
Having said that, then, one may ask: what then should be done to bring a strategic plan to reality?
Here are nine steps that must be instituted to achieve results in meeting strategic goals:
- Develop The Leadership Mindset
The CEO and the top leaders must be more engaged with their subordinates, at their respectable levels, in pushing for results. Since you cannot do it all, you must nurture and raise leaders that would work with you. Their contribution would introduce more objectivity and accuracy in decision making.
On a scheduled basis, you would need to walk down to the “factory floor” at the units or division level. Here you feel things and listen to their opinions and comments. Here most of your job would be; asking questions. No wonder, the highly revered and successful PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi took time out to visit divisions and even engaged business owners who retailed their products. To be a leader whose organization desires to generate good results, the Chief Executive and the leadership can no longer be aloof in their management style.
Many bring into leadership positions some behavioral ineptitude, ignorance and naivety. A top I.Q. or technical prowess garnered over the years may not even be enough to make achieve good results. And topnotch result isn’t a bad idea either, for shareholders and other stakeholders in the organization.There is also a need to be objective and less sentimental when dealing with people’s issues. The result oriented leaders must be emotional balanced, having behind his or her mind the results expected of the organization.
As a leader you must make things happen. Goal oriented Executives execute. No excuses… As such, they must stay less behind the big table to get the ship of enterprise to reach its planned destination.
- Build The Implementation System
Your organization will design and document a set of activities, actions and processes geared towards making the strategic plan a reality. It will be a living system since various internal and external variables won’t be static over time, even with the time frame as planned.
All activities must be well coordinated with the allocated resources and the workforce to accomplish the strategic goals.The system of purposeful action will be replicated across the different departments and divisions of the organization. These will be the sub-systems at various units or divisions. External factors must be considered first before the internal exigencies; and both built into the implementation framework. Areas of conflict will be eliminated through continuous communication and feedback loops.The system should be able to pinpoint issues that need to be addressed urgently.
For example; are there issues about hiring and wrong staffing?
Will you bring in needed skills to meet new objectives?
How does a sub-system of implementation in various units or division read the marketplace and consumer’s trends? And other factors such as technology, suppliers, and regulations; name it…At every leverage point within the overall operational system, the CEO and his or her top team must be able to put a finger on such areas and understand what is going on, in a timely manner.
- Encourage Staff Participation
There is a need to institute both a formal and informal set of events to get comments from the workforce. Specially designated leaders across units, departments or division will meet on a scheduled basis to discuss the strategic plans and what must be done to achieve them.The CEO hand-picks a top team of advisers which should include specialists at the lower rung of the ladder if need be. They help the CEO and the top executives spot each other’s blind-spot so that more informed decision can be made after these joint sessions.Informal meets such as executive and staff retreats is a good idea if it has cost-benefits. Powerful ideas do come up when everybody is allowed to express himself in a relaxed atmosphere. The CEO or his top team should be at such events. The Executives are to ask good questions and be more of silent listeners. Once agreed upon, the valid ideas are put into action by the CEO and leaders at various units and divisions.
It now becomes a collective assignment for the success of the organization.
- Allocate Resources
The staff must be supported with what they need towards the set goal. Support would come in difference shades. Where necessary additional skills will be brought from outside. Some staff may need further training or mentoring to implement new ideas. Within the workforce, resources should be allocated to develop innovative ideas for competitive edge.Consultants may be brought in to give an objective appraisal and proffer solution in many cases where time is of essence. This also helps for clarity where internal politics and doubts on feedback may slow down the CEO and the top leaders in coming to a decision.Ad-hoc arrangements or permanent alliance with technical partners in certain areas that the company lack expertise should also be effected, after due diligence. In extreme cases acquiring another firm may be the most effective decision rather than inventing the wheel in-house.
In essence, where a specific outcome is feasible and profitable, resources must be deployed to make it a reality.
- Align Organizational Behavior And Culture
Behavioral patterns that could stall the implementation process across board must be studied and where necessary adjusted. There must be an alignment of organizational culture that supports activities that ensure that the strategic goals are met. The inevitable internal politics must be tamed.The carrot and stick approach may be applied where necessary to induce collaboration as set targets must be met.
At the individual and group levels, persuasion and continuous dialogue must be the tactic to be used. Change takes time but smart organization and resourceful leaders work with their people to carry them along to create a more successful business organization.Habits die hard and since human beings are not robots; but the leadership would provide the best solution to get their staff cooperation and commitment.
No staff commitment, strategic failure is a matter of time. A good dose of continuous explanation and mutual understanding with the rank and file on the overall objective of an organization would help a great deal in execution.
- Manage The Workforce
As humans, our idiosyncrasies, biases and beliefs must be taken into consideration. Since people would drive the system, then they ought to be well managed. And pruning of staff may be necessary of those unwilling or unconvinced about the new orientation. The latter with such disposition must be found out and excused from the company.Years back, I recall a new business I started which was brought down by some old staff whom I thought would pick new skills for higher pay. They scared away the efforts of my highly skilled professional I employed to head the outfit. After two days of throwing the doors open, the new manager simply put a call across to me about his departure and walked away. For other reasons I eventually closed down the outfit. Painful. It was a loss.While at this, the Human Resources Department must key-in into the implementation system. Some of their activities would need vital contributions from the top hierarchy and other relevant departments before certain decisions can be finalized. It is a very sensitive department since people are the ones that make strategic plans and goals become a reality.A good reward system must also be instituted. Those who meet set objectives are recognized and rewarded. Those who miss the mark or who seem to be amiss about what is happening, would be investigated to see how they can be helped to perform better. If they fail afterwards, they may have to be given a different task. If they can’t meet up here again, then they should be relieved of their appointment in an amicable manner.
- Install Good Communication System
A thorough network of free-flow of information must be designed for the organization. It must be a well thought-out system. The organizational structure should support an efficient and effective flow of information that work in a timely manner.All tools and resources that will channel vital information between the CEO, top decision-makers and the workforce must be deployed and well managed.
Channels that follow Up-down, across, and between the organization and outside must be well managed.
The accuracy and authenticity of information must be verified for decision making. The nodal points of engagement along information channels must be well managed.The style of delivery of information must be amenable to all stakeholders for clear comprehension and understanding.
Information is sacred — secondary to human beings – and as such it is very important in our lives and in business management. We must carefully engage with it. It must be clear and understood by the receiver in whatever vehicle or form it is deployed. And the purveyor must not be careless about what is broadcast.
Either way information is channeled; from the CEOs, top executives or within the workforce, communication must be well protected with necessary tools and resources.Transparency should be entrenched to encourage a sense of belonging, conviction and commitment by employees and their unit leaders. However, in discretionary cases, some information may not be broadcast to everybody from top management.
- Understand The External Environment
No business exists in isolation. So the implementation process should feed in from outside to achieve specific outcome. The horizon changes more rapidly than in the past years because of technology.
Technology continuously causes so much change. In its wake, some industries have been subdued or became moribund while new ones have evolved.The externals would also include the general economy, consumers and social trends. We will also consider regulation, competition, global politics and threats and others. Various trends and players within an industry and outside of it will be monitored.Having a field tour by the CEOs and his top team across the value chain of the business would throw up some nuggets of useful ideas and unforeseen problems as well as opportunities.
It’s good for management to have an open mind. Strategies may be forced to change, if what you planned won’t go far.Other top leaders should do the same as foot soldiers of the management in their own capacity. All data are fed into the implementation system which the top management and the CEO would work with.To achieve strategic goals, there must be a proper engagement with suppliers and other partners to make execution a reality.
It is also a safer bet to engage in a diplomatic manner, influencers that play a major role in your industry. For big organizations, lobbying policy-makers — in an ethical manner — should be done in a timely manner as some policies may derail some strategic plans.
- Review Milestones and Feedback
On a continuous basis, there must be a process to determine if milestones are being met and they must be measurable. A value should be put to specific outcome. The various sub-systems within the organization should be accorded relevant criteria of review and feedback.When all these are carried out, a larger and clearer picture can be seen; to know how specific outcomes and strategic plans have been met.
Where success is achieved, you consolidate on that outcomes.
When the feedback falls short of expected milestones, it is a waste of energy to bark like a General at war. Though engaging in business is a war of sorts – the Chief Executive and his or her top team will go back to review and push for the objectives to be met.
Your well-crafted strategic plan is not enough. Your shareholders and other stakeholders hunger for results. You can drive the operational process with your workforce, to bring the strategic goals to a reality.
That is what is expected of you as a leader and Chief Executive, despite the shifting business horizon. It won’t be easy. But being disciplined and focused with your carefully selected team, you can do it.
And your well instituted execution plans would bring the well-crafted strategic plans on paper to reality.
And as Warren Buffet has been quoted, a little bit of the luck could help also. And that’s being pragmatic.
- *Cândido, C.J.F. and S.P. Santos (2015) Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate? Journal of Management & Organization, 21(2), 237-262. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jmo.2014.77
Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate? (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264004530_Strategy_implementation_What_is_the_failure_rate ↑