Why Great Strategies Fail

As we wrap up the year, chances are good that your organization has spent some time recently on strategic planning. It’s an annual ritual that can lead to success, but also often fails.

Why can’t companies get strategy right?

In spite of the fact that many organizations spend thousands of dollars a year on strategic planning, there’s often a disconnect between planning and execution. Because of this gap, even great strategies fail before the freshly minted plans roll off the office printers.

To avoid falling into the crevasse between concept and implementation, your organization needs to be primed for action before your executives return from the annual strategy retreat. Not only do your top leaders need to be ready to articulate the strategy their direct reports, everybody from the front lines up needs to understand where the organization is going.

Beyond vision and mission

Strategy extends way beyond the typical corporate vision and mission statements. These can often be difficult for employees to translate into day-to-day actions. When handed a new strategy, it takes more than a couple of meetings and some posters on the walls to convince people you’re on the right track.

When it comes to strategic direction,  you can’t assume that your team knows what you want simply because you told them. You have to make sure that they fully understand. In addition to comprehending the big picture, they must also have a strong grasp of what their role is in making that picture come to life.

Comprehension and commitment

Two keys to effective implementation of corporate strategy are comprehension and commitment. First, employees need to truly understand where the organization is going if you want them to help you get there. This comprehension must be coupled with commitment to organizational goals on an individual level. If there’s no commitment, there is no passion or motivation to take critical steps forward.

As you look forward to 2013, take time to talk with people at all levels of your organization. Ask them their views of the company’s strategy and what part they play in making it a reality. If you sense that there is a lack of understanding or resistance to important initiatives, address this in your 2013 agenda with objectives to build comprehension and commitment to your plans.

Winning them over

It’s not easy to get everyone on board. Often employees at various levels are concerned about change, and may even feel left out if they weren’t included in the planning process. You can’t force commitment, but you can earn it. By sharing your direction, gathering feedback and taking action when appropriate, you can engage employees in the planning process and win them over.

If you’re not comfortable reaching out to employees before you start your strategic planning process (or if you’re just now realizing you should have done so) there’s still an opportunity to inspire commitment. As you share your objectives with various teams throughout the company, ask for input on how to achieve specific goals.

Illustrate for different functional teams how their departmental and individual contributions can impact your results. Ask them for insights on the tactical approaches (the “how”) that will best achieve your strategic vision. By giving departments more say in planning the activities that roll up to organizational goals, you create ownership and emotional buy in.

When employees have an interest in helping executives achieve strategic plans, everyone wins. You change the discussion from “They want us to…(do the impossible)” to “How can we make this happen?”

There’s a powerful difference in the tone and content of those two conversations. Working together allows you to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, so your planning efforts bear fruit in greater profits, increased market share and stronger brand value.

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