Updated: Dec 29, 2020
The 7 Challenges of strategic development and how to avoid them
Strategy is chased relentlessly and is on every business leader’s lips. An attractive conquest whereby successful courtship leads to growth, prosperity, innovation, and market leadership.
Is strategy playing hard to get?
When one examines the experiences from various leaders, strategy and its development process, closely resembles attributes of a troubled romance. Only 2% of leaders are confident that they are able to achieve their firm’s objectives AND only 10% actually achieved 66% of their objectives (Boardview,2016).
Every courtship has its ups and downs. The downs are often rooted in poor practices adopted during the strategic planning and execution phase. To be a successful suitor of business strategy, avoid these 7 common courtship mistakes.
Challenge #1 – “Not on the same page!”
The funny thing about strategy is that it only works if the stars align. Your perception of reality and the future must be true. After all the careful planning and high expectations, your strategy can be reduced to zero if it was forged from a misunderstanding of your true context. Strategies built on this type of shaky foundation are unsuccessful as they are often susceptible to issues such as misread signals, unclear vision or unhappy stakeholders. It is unlikely to achieve your objectives if you are adopting an approach based on an incomplete understanding of your internal and external environment. This could inevitably lead to you and your strategy parting ways.
Advice: Take the time to understand your past, where you are now and where you need to be.
Do the research and take stock of your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.
Test all assumptions rigorously and map a plan that is reflective of your environment.
Challenge #2 – “Fear of commitment”
Just like some individuals like the “idea” of being in a relationship, it is no different with leaders and how they court strategy. They are maybe great at creating the vision and helping others fall in love with the possibilities. However, deep down they know they are not ready to commit. Their actions imply that they are very comfortable with the status quo.
They string their organizations along with speech that suggests that they are all the way in. However, their governance practices are at odds with their strategic ideal. This becomes particularly glaring when they are required to make transformative decisions.
Advice: Just as relationships can be romanticized, so too can strategic plans. Treating strategy as arm candy is counterproductive.
Successful implementation of business strategy is an investment in your business survival.
Assess your current reality as it relates taking on new business risks. Assess what culture, policies, procedures and governance structures need to change to ensure that plans can be sustained.
If you can’t commit to leading the organization through change, don’t string them along. Brainstorm and select other viable options that are within your risk appetite.
Challenge #3 – “Mixed Signals”
The lack of consensus on the direction a company should take is a natural part of the process but it can ground a company to a halt. When employees feel that the direction lacks credibility they either deliberately or inadvertently become the spoke in the process. They will extol the virtues of the vision when it suits them. If management is around, they will be full of compliments but in casual settings, they will gripe about why the plan would not work. This creates a movement of dissonance that management may not perceive and therefore it is undetected. This creates a false perception of alignment when essentially the organization is at corporate impasse.
Advice: Create avenues for employees to voice their concerns.
Collate and treat with each concern in a receptive and open minded manner.
Be open about the commitment and trade-offs that will be required. Failing to be honest and transparent will kill trust and engagement.
Challenge #4 – “Tainted Love!”
You know the expression “Wine and Dine”? Well employees are your change agents and need to be engaged in order to serve. Pockets of focus groups from within an organization may be part of the planning process but they often fail to engage the entire mass of employees in this exercise. Buy-in is often buzzed about but is really an overlooked component of corporate strategy. This is simply because it is assumed that employees would follow management’s direction regardless.
And how should you treat with technical jargon and complicated tools? Well statistics show that only 5% of employees understand their corporate strategy. If the average employee does not understand the jargon of affinity diagrams and balanced scorecards, they will not be able to interpret them. They will also not be able to translate how the information impacts them nor make the link between corporate strategy and their role.
Strategic planning often foretells of a need to change the culture or the need to change the business model. It is therefore crucial to include the principles of change management as part of the process of engagement. Remember not everyone will be ready for change. People may be emotionally attached to business as usual because it suits their lifestyle, ambition or comfort zone level.
Advice: When launching a strategy, don’t sidestep the emotional issues.
Meet employees where they are and assist them on the mental journey until they buy into the idea. Without emotional connectivity, the strategy will not resonate, inspire passion or energize the employee to go the extra mile.
Make the content relatable. Spend time explaining the process, objectives and application of the tools, at a level that the non-subject matter experts would understand. This will make it easier for them to understand how they can contribute.
Challenge#5 – “Being Cheap”
Having lofty ambitions but not being willing to throw resources behind the strategy to make it a success, is a form of self-sabotage. It is tantamount to going to war without an army or weapons. Resources maybe limited but it also fuels performance. Items such as time, staff, information, technology, finances, should be refined and allocated optimally towards the accomplishment of goals.
Advice: To compete, you have to be able to apply value approaches to all your decision making such that the conversation is not only on costs but about how you are making an impact. That’s the only way a meaningful outcome can be achieved.
Develop a resource plan. Allocate your resources efficiently and equip your team so they can work towards targets with all the tools required.
Challenge #6. – “Careless Whispers”
Why is everything so top secret? Do you know that only 27% of typical company’s employees have access to their company’s strategic plan? Employees mostly receive information in snippets or on a need to know basis. “Exclusivity Syndrome”, deny employees the right to help mould and objectively critique initiatives which deters involvement and engagement. It therefore cheats the process. Such practices are cliquish and leave out your most vital partners; your employees.
Advice: Listening and active participation is very important.
Include your employees in the conversation and keep the language simple. When all hands are required on deck, inclusiveness, not exclusivity will win race in the end.
Challenge # 7 – “Lack of Attention"
With 85% of leadership spending less than 1 hour per month discussing strategy (Boardview,2016), there is no question why there is a disconnect between business strategy and what actually happens. If no emphasis is paid to discussing the plan and re-examining its relevance, then no one is going to care and your strategy would just be a part time affair with no long lasting results. It is very easy to become engrossed in running the day to day business activities but growing the business deserves as much attention.
Advice: Leaders should learn and talk the language of strategy until it resonates and becomes second nature to all employees.
Strategy is an everyday job. Each task or project is in service to the execution of your business strategy.
Elevate strategy conversations at the leadership table to beyond the superficial and have the conversations not only during your corporate planning cycle.
Courting Strategy requires a strong grip on reality, a sense of purpose together with a commitment on how you are going to brace for the future. Woo your team and help them to understand and buy into your vision. Every moment that your strategic deliverable remains unachieved, is a step closer to being irrelevant to those that matter…your customers.
If there are no results, your competitor WILL offer your customer a better game and ELOPE with your market share!
The market waits on no one so don’t treat your strategy like a fling.
Stick to this advice and enjoy the rewards of a successful courtship!
If this article has helped you, do me a HUGE favour and share it with your colleagues. Like and share your experiences in the comments below!
Insights are based on my observation &experiences as either a formulator, implementer or cheerleader...
First published on Linkedin
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