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Six Reasons Why Strategy Execution Goes Wrong And How To Recover

You’ve created a robust corporate strategy and aligned all your projects. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for your strategy to be delivered, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not often as simple as that! In this article, we share six reasons why strategy execution might go wrong and how you can address them.

1. Get Alignment Right

First, strategic execution can fail because the work the business is doing does not take it closer to the strategy. If your strategy was to send a rocket to Mars, and all your projects were to do with stellar discovery or building a camera to take pictures of Mars, then you aren’t aligned.

However, we talk a lot about strategic alignment and how to get the right projects to deliver your strategic goals. I think the understanding of alignment between the vision of a company and how to translate that into concrete work to do that helps you get closer to the vision is now well understood.

However, as a recap: Set your strategy. Define the projects that have to happen to deliver the strategy. Do the projects.

Let’s move on!

2. Build Trust with Other TeamsStrategy Execution

Coordinating work across multiple teams is essential for delivering on your strategy. If you’ve got the alignment right, then failure to execute is the next biggest challenge.

In a study published in HBR, only 9% of managers reported that they could rely on other departments to deliver on promises. A little over half of the respondents said that they could rely on their colleagues in other teams “most” of the time. In the article, Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull say that other departments are not ranked much more reliable than third parties that companies typically work with, like suppliers.

So what happens when you can’t trust your colleagues to do their work? You put tactics in place to plug the gaps. For example, you don’t share project resources because you know if they are under your direct control, you’ll actually get stuff done. You duplicate effort just in case the other team does nothing. You micromanage. You end up with delays, or you say no to great projects because you don’t fully trust that as a business you’ll be able to deliver.

This sounds extreme, but it’s something that – if you are honest – you have probably seen in your own organisation. How often does an issue with another team get worse before it gets better? Perhaps the solution is a sticking plaster. Perhaps it never gets resolved, and relationships between the teams never recover.

3. Train Your Project Leaders

To combat the challenges of lack of trust between departments, project leaders need to be able to work cross-functionally. Seeing the bigger picture has never been more important. If you want your strategy to actually be realised, then you have to work as a team to do so.

Project managers talk about collaboration all the time, and many teams do it very well. Supported by project management software and collaboration tools, it seems like businesses have finally grasped the importance of making it easy for people to work together, even if they are part of a globally-dispersed virtual team.

However, the actual “doing” of collaboration is always a little trickier in practice. Support project managers and leaders with an understanding of what it means to lead across departments.

> Take a look at the Adaptive Strategy Execution training available

4. Project Managers: Build Credibility

As a project manager, what can you do? First, secure a mandate for your project that means you have cross-functional authority, delegated from your project sponsor, to work with teams across the business as required.

Second, build your personal credibility so that you are considered knowledgeable and trustworthy – someone all teams want to work with. If your reputation goes before you (and it’s a good one) then you’ll find it so much easier to get your colleagues from around the organisation to commit to what needs to be done.

5. Manage Change

Strategy execution is sometimes more of a challenge than it needs to be because of poor change management practices.

Normally, when I talk about change management, I mean the process of assessing and incorporating changes to scope into the project plan, but in this case, I mean all types of change management:

  • the process of change management on a project, leading to changes to the project scope, timeline, budget or some other parameter
  • the process of identifying and reacting to industry or environmental change, leading to changes in the strategy
  • the wider integration of business change into the organisation, leading to the adoption of the new ways of working, tools, process or transformation delivered by the project into the organisation.

Strategy execution is like any other type of project execution. You start off thinking it will go one way, and if you are lucky you get there – with a fewChange Management twists and turns along the way.

While those twists might not change your underlying strategy, how you intend to achieve it might change. Perhaps new projects are added or old initiatives mothballed. Some projects change scope. Something happens in the external environment – say, a change of legislation – that affects how you need to execute your strategy.

As a project leader, you have to go with the changes, leading your team through uncertainty noting that the end goal still remains. Lack of flexibility and struggling to be responsive to all kinds of change is another reason why some companies fail to deliver on their strategic goals.

6. Reward Performance

Does your business truly have a performance culture? When strategy execution fails, it could be because people in the business aren’t rewarded for strategic success.

That sounds strange, but it’s more common than you might think. For example, think about a retail organisation with many shops. Each shop has targets. They are all targeted on hitting particular sales figures. No shop is targeted with supporting the organisation hit overall sales figures. So when a shop assistant goes off sick at the most profitable branch, none of the other branches nearby ring up to offer some of their staff to fill the gap. That action would help the other branch hit its targets, and as they are the most profitable in the group, go towards helping the business overall meet target.

This is a simplistic example, but you can see how, when departments are tasked with their own goals, they work on their own goals. When departments are tasked with contributing to the overall strategy, they have more latitude to take creative solutions to make an active and useful contribution.

Make sure that the metrics for managing staff and team performance are as aligned to the strategy as the projects.

What do you think about the ideas in this article? Have you ever worked with teams who don’t collaborate across the business? Tweet us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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