In the first of a two-part series, author and strategy implementation specialist Robin Speculand looks at why strategy fails to translate into execution and why that is a question leaders should be asking themselves.
Feature JORDAN BUSINESS JANUARY 2010 69
From Strategy To Implementation
In the ﬁrst of a two-part series, author and strategy implementation specialist
Robin Speculand looks at why strategy fails to translate into execution and
why that is a question leaders should be asking themselves.
We have a ‘strategic’ plan. It’s
called doing things.” – Herb
Kelleher, former chief execu-
tive officer of Southwest Airlines
In the last few months, there has been
a sudden explosion in books, blogs
and articles highlighting how strategy
implementation fails more often than
it succeeds. The current economic sit-
uation has heavily contributed to the
explosion. “Every cloud has a silver
lining” is the idiom.
The recession impact has been scrupu-
lously documented and we are hope-
fully turning the corner, although there
are a few voices warning of a double
dip. One beneﬁt of the recession is that
leaders become better leaders.
The pressure on them today to deliver to
shareholders is greater than it has ever
been before. They must get it right the
ﬁrst time. In many situations, working
capital has been dramatically reduced,
markets have shrunk and customers and
shareholders are more demanding.
Failure Is Old News
Crafting and implementing are the
main responsibilities of leaders, with
historical evidence pointing to the trend
towards focusing more on crafting than
implementing. The success rate of im-
plementation is abysmal, with a 90%
failure rate. Previously, when they
failed to implement, leaders quickly
jumped to a new strategy, lowered the
targets or threw more money at the
problem (or blamed the consultant).
In today’s market, leaders are un-
der more pressure than ever before to
punctually deliver on their promises
to shareholders. As a result, they need
to successfully implement the strategy
70 Feature JORDAN BUSINESS JANUARY 2010
and this has resulted in greater inter- create key performance indicators? Align
est in the ﬁeld. Unfortunately, what is the culture to the implementation or rede-
missing from the current literature is sign processes to support the strategy?
One beneﬁt of the recession is that leaders
become better leaders. The pressure on
them today to deliver to shareholders is
greater than it has ever been before.
a framework and an understanding of The decision can be overwhelming
what leaders must do differently. The and, as a result, many leaders resort to
focus is mostly on the staggering failure what they can manage; that is, solving
rate, which is not new news. It has been the operational issues. On average,
ten years since Fortune magazine pub- leaders spend 85% of their time per
lished the oft-quoted cover story “Why month on operational issues and only
CEOs Fail” that explained how “orga- 15% on strategy and its implementa-
nizations fail to successfully implement tion. This is a recipe for failure and the strategy; explain how important it is to
strategy not because of bad strategy but must be reversed. the organization’s future and then you can
because of bad execution.” more or less ignore its implementation.
Seven years ago, Ram Charan followed Successful implementation means Staff members will revert to focusing
up this article by teaming up with Larry that leaders must translate strategy on what you focus on. If an action is
Bossidy to write Execution: The Disci- into actions that staff members ought important, leaders must follow through
pline of Getting Things Done. to take every day and then oversee the on it. If you only pay lip service to an
implementation. When working with action, then your staff members will
The book introduced the field of ex- a leadership team recently, I discov- also only pay lip service to it.
ecution to business leaders and ex- ered that they could not explain what
plained why execution was important. they wanted their people to do dif- Tips Of The Trade
Six years ago, I wrote the bestseller ferently as a result of hearing about To greatly enhance the odds of success
Bricks to Bridges: Make Your Strate- the new strategy. The leadership team in your organization – remembering the
gy Come Alive, in which I argued that understands the strategy, but had not odds are stacked against you before you
nine out of 10 times strategy fails and considered the strategy’s implications even started, with nine out of ten imple-
so does the framework for success. for individual areas of the business mentations failing – I strongly recom-
and its people’s day-to-day activities. mend making sure your staff members
Decisions, Decisions and leaders are taking the right actions.
What leaders want to know is what Leaders generally know that imple-
they must do differently. Implementa- mentation requires extra effort. In In the second part of this article, I will
tion is about taking the right action. reality, however, very few are able or discuss how leaders identify the right
This may sound simple, but real- even willing to free up valuable time action for implementing strategy.
ity dictates otherwise. Leaders must and resources to do justice to the im-
oversee the implementation journey plementation journey. They become Implementation Never Goes
and ensure staff members are taking so caught up in managing the day- According to Plan
the right action. to-day business that they lose sight
of their goal to implement the new Leaders must:
After launching a strategy, however, a strategy and instead end up taking the • Spend more time reviewing
leader needs to decide what action should wrong actions. strategy and implementation than
dealing with operations.
On average, leaders spend 85% of their time
per month on operational issues and only • Base decisions on intuition
combined with facts from the
15% on strategy and its implementation. This reviews.
is a recipe for failure and must be reversed.
• Conduct reviews to ensure you
be taken next. Encourage staff members Once you identify the right action, leaders achieve desired outcomes.
by redesigning performance manage- must fully support staff members. Consider
ment? Develop a communication plan or the signal you are sending when you launch