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Six reasons why your strategic plan fails to deliver. The Hidden Barriers and how to identify them. Part 2

A high percentage of strategic plans fail to deliver their goals. Some experts say it is over 70%. Many articles have been written on how to execute better and we will look at some ideas in today’s episode 7.

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

Hidden Barrier #4 Poor Coordination, a lack of willingness.

Most companies work well within silos but any project worthy of the name strategy will work across silos. Possibly across geographies. And this is where coordination often breaks down. Coordination is critical for the effective implementation of strategies and it always a challenge. Insecure managers will fight to maintain the status quo and retain their empires. They will not be able to agree on how to reorganize, how to reshape the culture to work together to be able to overcome the unavoidable obstacles to coordination and collaboration. If this barrier exists it shows a lack of, or an ineffective, cross boundary team who should be responsible integrating value creating strategies. This team should be responsible for honest, collective and open conversation to allow the organization to recognize and correct these flaws.

This could be happening if you see any of these signs:

  1. Execution across functional, business or geographies is painfully slow or impossible. Even if there are friendly relationships between the respective leaders.
  2. The cross-function initiative is taking second place to meeting the function’s goals and targets.
  3. Roles and responsibilities and decision making rights are unclear.

Working across silos is often difficult so a senior person needs to be in place to resolve conflicts that will inevitably arise.  A person selected for this role must be seen to be impartial, able to put the company’s needs above her or his personal goals. They have no axe to grind expect to ensure the successful implementation of the change initiative.

Hidden Barrier #5. Inadequate leadership development.

Leaders do not learn leadership through training courses but by being challenged by difficult assignments or difficult decisions. To achieve this managers need to be willing to release their best employees for work on projects that will develop their skills. They need to make a sacrifice for the greater good of the organization as a whole. When this does not happen naturally and willingly it is often tied to three of the barriers we have already discussed. An ineffective senior team (#2) in a siloed organization with personal fiefdoms (#4) that does have the perspective or capability to define collaborative values and behaviors it expects of its leaders (#1). These are all symptomatic of an organization that is not focused on developing leadership skills. Those skills required to be a capable general manager.

If you can detect any of these signs your organization may be suffering from this barrier:

  1. The choices of who can be trusted to get things done always narrows down to the same names, the same suspects
  2. Your organization does not provide enough opportunities for leadership and development
  3. The senior team does not review leadership talent regularly or offer career paths that enable employees to develop and enhance their skills

There are ramifications beyond the ability to execute strategy for a company that has these traits. As I discussed last week the number one reason employees give for leaving an employer is lack of career progression. While employees often use career progression to mean promotion, there are alternatives. Challenging assignments or lateral moves are some ways to provide employees with job satisfaction. If your company exhibits the traits listed in this section, you will probably suffer from higher employee turnover as well as poor strategic execution. As the leader of your company you should take action, now rather than later.

Hidden Barrier #6. Inadequate vertical communication.

Let’s be a bit more specific, inadequate honest vertical communication is the problem here. Leaders do not take enough time to communicate the company’s strategic direction and values with folks lower in the organization. They use the trickle down effect where each manager explains the strategy to his direct reports and so on. At each stage the message gets less clear, the managers are unable to answer their employees questions accurately, no wonder employees are confused. Possibly even more important is the lack of honest upwards communication. There is no channel for senior managers to hear the truth about barriers that are being felt at the lower ranks in executing the planned strategies.

Signs that your organization has this barrier are:

  1. There are few or no forums for upward communication in which managers and staff can openly communicate with managers in a low risk environment. Note having a townhall, all employee meeting and opening the floor up to questions may make you feel good but this is not going to give you the feedback you need. Consider skip level meetings where you meet with employees lower in the organization in a relaxed setting
  2. Open public discussion of difficult issues does not occur naturally. This may be part of the culture of your company but can also reflect regional cultures. If you are operating an international company be aware of these cultural issues.
  3. You do not hear of senior leaders asking folks down in the organization about problems that stand in the way of company effectiveness and soliciting ideas for improvement

John Kotter the change management guru cites lack of communication as a major cause of the failure of transformation projects. He says that companies underestimate the need for communication up to ten fold. Facilitating upward communication is vital. When I have been asked to step in when a company is not meeting its targets, I often find the employees know what the problems are and how to fix them. Employees usually know their job better than anyone else

If you want to learn more about why strategic plans fail, you can listen to my season 4 show 4 on the topic. Listen here

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