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Are there hidden barriers in executing strategy within your company?

Based on HBR article by Michael Beer “6 Reasons Your Strategy Isn’t Working”. Published June 2020

According to Michael Beer in his HBR article “6 Reasons Your Strategy Isn’t Working”. Published June 2020 there may be hidden barriers preventing your team executing your business strategy

Some or all these hidden barriers may exist in your organization. They may go unrecognized; they are often not discussed for fear of the consequences because they address failings in the organization. Often failings in senior management and leadership.

Even good strategies will fail if these barriers are present in your organization; because your team cannot execute until these barriers are removed.

Hidden Barrier #1 Unclear Values and Conflicting Priorities.

This occurs when a strategy is developed without sufficient consultation with the employees at the coal face. The leader of the company along with a few chosen executives formulate a strategy and then communicate the strategy to the organization.

This creates several issues. While the strategy may be sound, there will likely be a lack of understanding on how it can be executed. In episode 40 of Season 7 I discussed research that shows that many managers do not know everything their employees do. In one case a manager could only recall 4% of his team’s activities. If you do not know what your employees are doing, how can you estimate their capacity to execute the new strategy?

Another problem with this approach is that it is unlikely to generate strong commitment within your workforce. People are much more likely to embrace strategies that they have been part of the creation process. Finally there can be misunderstandings in communicating the strategy. A top down message often gets garbled as it trickles down the organization.

This barrier may exist in your company if you detect any of these signs.

  1. Lack of clarity in employees understanding of the strategy, poor guidance for organizational strategy.
  2. Conflicting priorities, conflicts of resources, poor execution due to functions each pursuing their own priorities.
  3. People feeling overloaded, due to everything being a priority.

Not sure if these conditions exist in your organization? Ask your employees if they are struggling with these issues. To do this you need to create a low risk setting that encourages your employees to talk openly.

Look at your strategy creation process. Are you consulting widely enough? Do all those who may have a contribution to make have a voice at the table?

Hidden Barrier #2 An Ineffective Senior Team.

You may not like it but your employees may consider you ineffective at strategy. Research in the Harvard Business Review shows that 71 percent of employees in companies with weak execution believe strategic decisions are second-guessed, as opposed to 45 percent of employees from companies with strong execution. Even if your company executes well nearly half the employees have little confidence in the soundness of the strategy developed by senior managers.

A leading cause of this lack of confidence comes from the top team not speaking with a common voice about strategies, priorities and values. This results in low trust and low commitment towards strategic decisions.

This barrier may exist in your company if:

  1. Meetings focus on updating colleagues about what is happening in the speaker’s functional area, short term issues and operational details. Note these update meetings are almost universally hated.
  2. If there is a lack of willingness to confront and resolve difficult strategic and organizational issues.
  3. Your team avoids constructive conflict in meetings. The real decisions get made outside of the meeting room.
  4. There is no common voice about the issues facing the company and what to do about it.

This barrier you will need to detect yourself. Your employees are not going to tell you. Other members of your senior team may allude to it. “I don’t think Joe is on board with this strategy” Observe, take note of what you see, and address the issue head on. This is one you can fix, maybe not easily, but you can fix it.

Hidden Barrier #3 Ineffective Leadership Style.

This refers to individual leadership. There are two, contrasting leadership styles that can derail the implementation of strategies. Firstly, the top down approach that does not involve team members sufficiently to build their commitment to the project in hand. Secondly the laissez faire non-confrontational style that does not encourage buy in as the impression created is that the project is not that important.

The causes of both approaches could be due to the leader’s aversion to conflict. One avoids it by issuing orders and accepting no arguments. The other by walking away from issues and not confronting problems. Or it could be that either approach, top down or laissez faire could be the result of the manager not knowing how to create a forum for constructive debate and following it through to a decision.  

The outcome is that the leader, whichever style they adopt, does not learn what members of the senior team or subordinates really think about what is not working and why.

You may have leaders who have this problem if:

  1. They tend to get lost in the operational details and not address the bigger issues. That is they work “one level below their pay grade” Leaders should do what only they can do and delegate the rest to others.
  2. They are not visible. They spend time little time communicating overall strategy or direction. They do not encourage debate to resolve conflicting issues. They skip meetings where their presence is required to show commitment.
  3. They avoid those difficult conversations to confront issues or people that are an impediment to get the job down. They are poor at removing barriers.

In my next post I will look at three more hidden barriers that are limiting your ability to deliver on your company’s strategy

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