Of all the meetings top executives go to in a year, none is more important than the strategy off-site, where the most essential conversations for the future of the business occur. Yet it is the rare management team that can say its strategy off-site truly changed the way the business is run. At best, participants do some vague direction setting and work on team-building skills; at worst, they write off the retreat as a waste of time and resources. It needn’t be like that.
A recent study found that over two-thirds of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies. Over the years of working with companies across industries on strategy execution and strategic program management efforts, we’ve identified seven major pitfalls that cause significant issues for organizations executing new strategies. In this Practice Spotlight, we briefly review each pitfall, and describe the best practices that we help our clients adopt to ensure success.
1. No Coordinated Oversight of the Effort – Most organizations do not have a centralized group to coordinate critical tasks required for successful strategy execution and by default use a PMO
2. Poor Cross-Enterprise Coordination – Most organizations fail to coordinate effectively across functions and units, and commitments from colleagues in those areas are often unreliable
3. Insufficient Communication – If the case for change and progress around the strategy are not consistently and frequently communicated and understood throughout the organization, employees become disengaged and frustrated with the process
4. Insufficient Stakeholder Engagement – Stakeholders (e.g., business partners, support functions, customers, etc.) are not integrated into the process appropriately, which limits buy-in and the impact of the strategy
5. No Specific Forums to Discuss Progress – Most senior teams do not allocate sufficient time or create appropriate forums to discuss progress against the strategy
6. Ambiguous Decision Rights and Accountability – The degree of autonomy granted to executives involved in the process is unclear, including when and how decisions need to escalate
7. Inappropriate Balance Between Day-to-Day and Strategy Execution – Teams either become so focused on successfully executing the strategy that the day-to-day business suffers, or teams concentrate on day-to-day operations and think incrementally about the strategy
To overcome these pitfalls, we have identified several best practices throughout the strategy execution process. These best practices fall into three categories, which span the strategy execution process.
Step 1: Articulating the case for change. Select best practices include:
- The leader makes a strong case for change by clearly and persuasively articulating the factors that are driving it
- Senior leaders paint a picture of the future state and define measures of success
- Key strategic initiatives are identified and executive ownership is assigned
- “Top 100” is aligned and “all in”
Step 2: Establish the foundation for the strategy execution effort. Select best practices include:
- A centralized body is established to coordinate the strategy execution effort, especially across functions and units
- Charters and detailed implementation plans are developed and shared for each strategic initiative
- Meetings are held with key stakeholders to provide feedback around the path forward for each initiative
- A comprehensive communications plan is developed
Step 3: Track progress and make adjustments when necessary. Select best practices include:
- Reporting mechanisms are established to track progress
- Cadence is established and implemented at different organizational levels to review progress, solve issues, make decisions/mid-course corrections and coordinate dependencies
- Communications (internal and external) are proactive, ongoing and linked to the strategic vision (i.e., early wins are shared to demonstrate progress, day-to-day accomplishments and progress against the strategy are both emphasized)
By following these best practices, leaders can overcome the pitfalls of strategy execution and ensure their strategies drive results.