Shepherd strategy execution poll and comments

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Results, interpretations and conclusion of votes from a recent survey of a national business audience: The primary reason for poor strategy implementation is uncertainty about what it is, who is …

Results, interpretations and conclusion of votes from a recent survey of a national business audience: The primary reason for poor strategy implementation is uncertainty about what it is, who is accountable and how it is to be accomplished.

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  • 1. July 15, 2010What Is the Primary Reason for Poor Strategy Implementation?Results, interpretations and conclusion of votes from a recent survey of a national businessaudience. Brian Shepherd Shepherd Consulting LLC http://www.accountcaffeine.com/strategy-implementation-implementing-strategy/ www.linkedin.com/in/briansshepherd San Francisco 415-516-8433
  • 2. 2“Our problem is not about thestrategy itself, but about ourexecution of it” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP in 2007 (Robert S Kaplan, 2008) Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 3. 3What Is the Primary Reason for Poor Strategy Implementation? Contents Introduction 4 Top Level Results 5 Top Level Conclusions 8 Below the Top Level Results Hierarchy Title Differences 9 Company Size Trends 10 Business-Building Functions 11 Conclusions 12 Quotes from contributors 13 Bibliography and Notes 20 Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 4. 4IntroductionKaplan and Norton concluded in a 2006 on-line survey of 143 performance management professionals “that having aformal strategy execution system made success two to three times as likely as did not having such a program” (Robert SKaplan, 2008)1From the recently HBS published book, One Strategy: Aligning Planning and Execution, Lantsiti points out that “Directedstrategy is what management believes needs to get done, while emergent strategy represents what actually gets done”.(Lantsiti, 2010)His conclusion? The chief impediment to successful strategy execution is inertia. He identifies Dell‟s direct sale model asone example– “Execution continued along the old inertial path, and the organization failed to adapt”. (Comments athttp://www.accountcaffeine.com/blog/)Purpose and Process of PollingI wanted to understand how Lantsiti‟s conclusion compared to the perceptions of active business executives, managersand role specialists. In June and July of 2010, I conducted an on-line poll of business connections, executive and strategygroups on Linkedin.com. Without referencing Lantsiti‟s conclusion, I asked them what they believed to be the chiefimpediment to successful strategy execution. I asked the following question and gave a choice of five answers.Question: What Is the Primary Reason for Poor Strategy Implementation?Answer Choices: 1. Leadership is unsure of how to execute 2. The strategy is not well-defined 3. The strategy is wrong for the company 4. Priority is lost in daily problems 5. Not sure who is responsible for results1 (Robert S Kaplan, 2008) Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 5. 5The 78 respondents came from a cross-section of company sizes, job titles and job functions.The poll included responses by C-level and VP, management and other contributors to strategy implementation. Theyalso identify themselves by company size. Two thirds identified their job functions in their companies.The poll was taken between June 1 and June 20, 2010 on-line by a diverse North American business population. Theopportunity to answer the poll question was offered to over 300 business contacts and over 1000 group members on thebasis of their experience and interests relative to the question.Top Level ResultsThe 78 respondents voted their reason for poor strategy implementation and some added comments in the poll anddiscussion groups. Many of the best are reproduced in the “Comments” section later in this paper. I have extracted a fewhere to illustrate the points made that bear directly on the reasons offered in the poll. Most respondents stated they weredrawing on their real-world business experience in casting heir vote or making their comment and this is the world Iwanted them to draw upon for their choices.In order of preference, the single-most most common reason chosen for poor strategy implementation is Priority is lost in daily problems: 46% o “Face it; the toughest thing is to consistently attack/handle something on a repeated basis. There are too many outside forces pulling in too many directions “ o “As a human being, it is quite normal that you come back to your fire fighting when a problem happens”However, a second look strongly suggests the remainder believe the dominant reason for poor strategy implementation isuncertainty: unsure leadership, undefined strategy and unclear responsibilities.These important uncertainties allow strategy execution to be overcome by the inertial forces of legacy priorities, skills,structure, rewards, and culture. No respondents chose to fault the strategy itself for as the primary reason. Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 6. 6 Leadership is unsure of how to execute: 28% o “Strategy is to do with Leadership. Bad execution is to do with what the leader has not done to guide, train or mentor the subordinates” o “The strategy does not get translated effectively and/or efficiently from leadership through the ranks to those who implement/execute the activities” o “The days when a leader (like Napoleon Bonaparte) developed a strategy and an organization executed it are over ... I hope” The strategy is not well-defined: 19% o “As much time need be spent on timelines and clear accountability assignments as was spent on developing the strategy in the first place “ o “We tend to separate the conception of a strategy from its execution. This is, in my view, a mistake” o “PowerPoint” Not sure who is responsible for results: 6% o “People try to move ahead but are unsure exactly what they should do, who all should be involved “ o “Lack of clearly defined actions, owners and accountability/monitoring” The strategy is wrong for the company: 0%Although there were no votes for this reason, there were a few comments that any definition of strategy that does not consider the execution capability gaps of the organization is an incomplete strategy and by implication – wrong for the company o “… when we separate Strategy from Execution we have a problem.” o “Top down directed, bottom up silence, and a lack of complete understanding in the capabilities of the people, processes, policies, practices and plant.” o “In our good industrial tradition of division of labor, we tend to separate the conception of a strategy from its execution. This is, in my view, a mistake.” Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 7. 7What is the Primary Reason forPoor Strategy Implementation? Leadership is unsure of how to execute 28% 6% 28% The strategy is wrong for the company 0% 46% The strategy is not well -defined 19% 0% 19% Priority is lost in daily problems 46% Not sure who is responsible for results 6% Figure 1 Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 8. 8Top Level ConclusionsReturning to the opening statement that the most common reason for poor strategy implementation is that the priority is“lost in daily problems." I will draw on my consulting and leadership experience; primarily in B2B financial servicescompanies to suggest a real life interpretation.No doubt, there should always something useful to accomplish in one‟s job and almost every task competes with a longlist of tasks that are beneficial.But if, at any point in time you are tasked with working on  a poorly defined strategic goal  to deliver future results  for which you may or may not be responsible and  that your leadership is unsure how to execute-prioritizing daily problems is probably a welcome alternative.So, the company continues to move in the legacy direction and 90% of strategy implementations are incompleteBelow these top line numbersThere are many interesting indications of where and why strategy implementation fails. These relate to management level,company size and job function as shown in the tables and charts that follow below. Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 9. 9Hierarchy Title DifferencesInterestingly, even 44% of the executive respondents, those most likely to have participated in developing the businessstrategy, also faulted their uncertainty of “how, who and what” as a primary reason for poor strategy implementation. Thismanifested itself as 65% in the management level that takes direction from executives.Even 24% of those closest to top leadership (C-level & VP), with the best view of how strategy was developed, indicatethey and their own top leaders are unsure of how to execute. So it is not surprising at all that an even greater 45% ofManagement identified Leadership‟s uncertainty of how to execute as the #1 reason for poor execution.Comments on this senior level uncertainty suggest it is a product of o high risk inherent to new strategies o failure to operationalize the strategyPrimary reason by position and title C-level VP Mgmt Other Table 1Leadership is unsure of how to execute 24% 45% 19%The strategy is not well –defined 10% 20% 19%Priority is lost in daily problems 56% 35% 56%Not sure who is responsible for results 10% 0% 6% 100% 100% 100%Response distribution 14% 29% 57%Uncertainty (how, not defined, who) 44% 65% 44%It is worth mentioning by way of interpretation that although none of the Manager respondents chose “Not sure who isresponsible for results” that doesn‟t mean they believe that there were no problems in accountability but that compared tothe other choices, it was the least of reasons for poor execution. If 45% hadn‟t „spent‟ their vote on the perception or factthat “leadership is unsure how to execute”, theoretically at least, some of them may have selected uncertainty aboutresponsibility Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 10. 10Company SizeThose who answered the poll self-identified the size of their companies and may not be consistent as to which categorythey measurably belong; however, the stand out fact is that small companies have the highest uncertainty level at 62%and this is driven almost entirely by “leadership unsure of how to execute” at 44% - twice that of enterprises and threetimes of large companies. 70% 62% 60% 55% 50% 50% 45% 44% Uncertainty (how, not well defined, 40% who) 33% Leadership is unsure of how to 30% execute 25% The strategy is not well -defined 22% 20% 18% 13% 10% 6% 0% Enterprise Large Medium Small Figure 2 Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 11. 11Business Building Job FunctionsOnly two thirds of the respondents identified their primary job function, and at this point, the numbers become too small tobe meaningful. However, there are some interesting indications for further research. For example, all of the “not sure whois responsible for results” in this poll came from Finance positions. Combining the business development, marketing andsales function results show that 45% chose uncertainty answers – a real problem if the company strategy depends onthese metrics targeted groups to make important contributions to execution. Either strategy implementation is not built intotheir measureable targets or they don‟t see the link between them and company strategy. Either way, this is an importantgroup that feels disconnected from company strategies. Primary reason for Business Development, Marketing and Sales Combined 31% Leadership is unsure of how to execute 55% The strategy is not well -defined 14% Priority is lost in daily problems Figure 3 Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 12. 12Conclusions:As stated in the high level conclusion, if, at any point in time you are tasked with working on a poorly defined strategicgoal to deliver future results for which you may or may not be responsible and that your leadership is unsure how toexecute -prioritizing daily problems is probably a welcome diversion from strategy execution.Strategy execution could be more difficult than daily distractions because daily problems are clear, urgent, sometimesemotional, incented, familiar, and success leads to a tangible sense of accomplishment and influence on companysuccessIf only strategy could be clear, urgent, sometimes emotional, incented, familiar, and its success lead to a tangible sense ofaccomplishment and influence on company success. Unfortunately, according to the respondents to this poll, the primaryreason for poor strategy implementation is the lack of clarity about the strategy, its leadership and accountability.Low percentages in the execution issues by company size do not indicate better success but rather, more pressingreasons. For instance it‟s not reasonable to believe that Enterprise size businesses with zero votes for “Not sure who isresponsible for results” indicate an enterprise strength. How can an employee be sure who is responsible when“Leadership is unsure of how to execute” and “The strategy is not well-defined”?More importantly, in enterprise, large and medium businesses, the greatest source of uncertainty is “The strategy is notwell –defined” The comments by respondents and other interested group members lead me to at least one actionableconclusion and that is that the strategy is not complete until it is operationalized in a plan that is executable.The comments suggest that a good method of accomplishing this stage is to engage the implementers in operationalizingthe strategy. Even 60% of the executive/vice-president respondents voted the main reason as “The strategy is not well –defined”. And the managers get that because 44% of them get that “Leadership is unsure of how to execute”. However,more than any other layers in the business hierarchy, executives and vice-presidents say the main reason for failure is“Priority is lost in daily problems”.My view is that the executives‟ uncertainty and lack of clarity about strategy leave employees to do what they know best –the inertial momentum of legacy goals and tasks. Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 13. 13Additional Quotes from Contributors on the Primary Reason for Poor Strategy ImplementationComments were entered on-line to communicate, not to publish so I have corrected spelling, grammar and some syntaxfor clarity.I have identified commentators by their initials and deleted their company names to anonymize them. They know who theyare and I thank them for their thoughtful ideas, suggestions on strategy execution. I also appreciate the encouragement ofGroup owners who allowed me to pose these questions in their forums.Daily ProblemsThese and other comments highlight the lack of clarity, communication and even when these are successful - thechallenge of motivation or buy-in that remains to be achieved. ******It is the lack of a systematic, consistent, and repeatable approach.Face it; the toughest thing is to consistently attack/handle something on a repeated basis. There are too many outsideforces pulling in too many directions.Let me ask this - Why do so many diets, work out plans, money saving attempts, etc. go by the wayside? Because it isjust too tough to do it consistently over a long period of time. Right now, for instance, I am helping an organization learnsome new software. Weve defined the goals, had leadership back the decision 100%, communicated the need/desire tochange, motivated employees, provided on-site training, and the list goes on from there.The problem is that when left to make individual decisions … related to the mundane tasks of learning the new systemthey revert to something more enjoyable! I would rather … „send email forwards than watch a 30-minute tutorial … Iwould rather eat that slice of pizza than the diet food shown in my diet plan, I would rather sit on the couch and watch mysitcom than go for a run. A great book I recently read describes this in terms of rational vs. emotional decision making and likens it to a concept ofan elephant (emotional) and its rider (rational). The elephant can be directed for a period of time with constant attentionand focus from his rider; however, when the elephant truly wants to get off course there is nothing the rider can do to takeback control! T.C. - Business Development ****** Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 14. 14Hi Brian,Im a strategist and know very well that all of your answers are more or less contributing to failure of some strategies. I willselect on upper category: communication.Normally, the people that define strategies don‟t involve all levels in the company. The consequences are when you try todeploy the strategy or cascade it down, the language used in different levels play a very important role. If you say for bluecollar that the stakeholders are looking forward to improve the KPI regarding ROI in 3 years, they will not understand asingle word and will see the strategy as power points and folders distributed in the organization. However, if you find awise way to communicate throughout the organization you get their attention. Then its all about a culture change.As a human being, it is quite normal that you come back to your fire fighting when a problem happens. That was my vote:priority is lost. You need to define key persons in all levels that will be pulled out from daily activities and concentrate onlyon middle or long term results. So, you can succeed at implementing a Strategy. G.S. - Quality Specialist ******Good strategies are not necessarily easy to execute. On the contrary, execution is the stage where many good strategiesand companies fail. Otherwise, everybody would do it. Good strategies however are on the spot and sustainable ratherthan being short-lived.Take the first iPod in the market as an example. Apple changed the music industry although there were many mp3players in the market already. In Apples case, consumer-focused strategy went hand-in-hand with excellent execution.Flawless executions require professional expertise in all aspects of a business, relentless focus and desire to be excellentand connections for amazing collaboration with top industry players. Let me also add tenacity; Ive met many companiesthat gave up right in the middle of creating "the next big thing." They didnt need an easily executable strategy, theyneeded the right mind-set. C.C - Executive Director of Product DevelopmentAssuming the strategy is good … the most significant reason why it fails is because of lack of buy-in. When the teambelow cannot identify with the tasks because they do not have an understanding of the whole picture - then the executionis likely to fail. A clear ongoing communication plan is critical. S.M. – Partner & CRM Champion ******… I learned early on from one who I consider my marketing mentor that you must sell the salesman before the salesmanwill sell. I believe that this is an important piece of the implementation puzzle, and maybe a lost art. I have talked withmany customer facing folks who were questioning the marketing strategy or product strategy while commenting that they Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 15. 15did not see it having a chance to succeed or understand what the company was doing. So, it appears that another bit thatcan be a challenge, is collecting feedback from the customer facing (sales, applications, or customer services) parts of theorganization to complete the data gathering aspect of formulating a strategy. I therefore, agree with an earlier commentabout too much segregation of these functional parts … where strategy sometimes appears to come out of the clear bluewith frontline folks left asking, “where did THIS come from?".My second comment is that some organizations dump their strategy too quickly and declare it unsuccessful due to earlyset backs or poor early results. In my experience, if the right controllers and monitoring channels are used and watched,an organization should be able to make adjustments on the fly. Not dump the effort due to poor early results. Strategy isnot static but dynamic. So, some amount of flexibility in the strategy either to changes in market forces or otherdevelopments in the marketplace is also the hallmark of a well conceived plan. R.S. – Vice President, Bus. Dev.Strategy Is Not Well-DefinedComments on this answer take three viewpoints. 1. The strategy is not well-defined 2. The strategy is not operationalized for execution 3. The strategy that fails to consider the organization‟s strategy/execution capabilities gap – does not meet the test of “well-defined” ******We find that of these choices “The strategy is not well defined” and “Leadership is not sure how to execute” are the twoprimary reasons that implementation fails to meet expectations. From 30,000 feet the reason for this is that you don‟tknow what you don‟t know going in. Before you can develop a strategy you need a quantitative baseline of organizationalperformance, descriptions of relevant and real organizational behaviors, gaps in performance and analysis tools. Inaddition, you need a way for management to channel resources for success. In other words, you need to discover the“Current Reality” of the organization. Without it your strategy / initiative will have a high probability for failure. M.S. –President & CEO ****** Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 16. 16My experience has been that a sound strategy is an implemented strategy. Anything less and you need to question if thestrategy was sound. Buy-in, “executibility” (if that is such a word), business coordination - all of it - are clear indicators ofa sound strategy. When I think of firms that have implemented a sound strategy I think of WalMart, Apple, Best Buy, andCisco to start.Their strategies encompass the entire business and permeate through the business. They arent complex, multi-pagedPowerPoint‟s drawn up by their CEOs or their senior managers in a rah-rah off-site. They definitely arent works of outsideconsulting firms handed to the senior team. The strategy itself should be wonderfully simplistic and clear statements thatemployees from C-suite to line worker are able to understand what it means for them - and importantly act to implementthe strategy. RI - Head, Americas AlliancesThere are a host of reasons why strategies fail when it comes time to implement. One I would mention is that strategicplans are often not exposed to enough cross-functional perspective. D.F. - Marketing Leader & Consultant ******Many times early implementation failures can be mitigated by input from key sales reps (provides customer andcompetitive perspective), geographic representatives (helps uncover regional differences), and trusted key customers(understands the context in which your product exists). J.S. - Chief Strategy and Growth Officer ******PowerPoint. H.P. - Director of Marketing ******A good idea poorly executed is not a good idea anymore.In fact, I have seen very good ideas being lost in translation by poor craft as much as pretty standard ideas beingelevated to worthy results simply by excellent craft. Look at Avatar. C.C. - Executive Director of Product Development ******Good strategies are easy to execute, bad strategies are not.A sure symptom of failure to come is when concerns over execution in the real world are swept away with "yes you can"slogans. In our good industrial tradition of division of labor, we tend to separate the conception of a strategy from its Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 17. 17execution. This is, in my view, a mistake.I contend that it is the job of the strategist (and a part of the strategy) to factor in who will execute and with which means.A strategy that does not account for limits on the ground is poor and doomed to fail.A strategist that walks away saying "I had a good idea, my job is done" does not deserve to get paid. A good idea is not astrategy, is only a starting point to build a strategy.In my mind "poor execution" is an excuse used by those who propose a poor strategy - and is used, alas, in over 90% ofthe strategy projects.And it is here where I come back to the point that if the strategy is really well conceived, its execution will be "easy". S.H. -Telecommunications Advisor & Executive ******Top down directed, bottom up silence, and a lack of complete understanding in the capabilities of the people, processes,policies, practices and plant. Then there is the absence of linking the new strategy to the budget and the correct metrics.M.J. - Principal ConsultantLet‟s assume the strategy is sound. Its successful implementation is directly proportionate to its complexity and thus, theneed to involve a few, or many constituents. Regardless, before everyone goes running off with their piece of the puzzle,nearly as much time need be spent on timelines and clear accountability assignments as was spent on developing thestrategy in the first place. An individual weak link (ownership lapse) in the process can derail the timing and evencompromise the original strategic vision. W.S. - Sales Development & Marketing ******Leadership Is Unsure Of How to ExecuteThe full responsibility for successful strategy execution is with the leader. Leaders must lead and inspire theirteams with passion. Leaders with broader experience are more likely to have success translating the strategyinto executionHi Brian, I think all contribute to some extent but at the end of the day, it is the leadership (or not) defining topmanagement to execute and forward actions or guidelines to the lower levels; I think in many cases severe disastersoccurred due to inconsistent management (leadership) (A.A. - EU Director) ****** Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 18. 18Leadership, Leadership, Leadership takes full responsibility. Leadership is always the one to take credit if things work outand to be accountable if things dont go well. (H.A. - International Business Management) ******Strategy is to do with Leadership. Bad execution is to do with what the leader has not done to guide, train or mentor thesubordinates. (V.V. – Director) ******… when we separate Strategy from Execution we have a problem. Ideally a Strategist should be someone who has come up through the ranks and understands the nuances of CorporateVs Markets; engineering, marketing, production, finance, and sales. Too many Companies do not take the time to groompotential leaders with a broad understanding of the business and thus get a myopic strategy or worse yet pull in someonefrom the outside with no understanding of the business to deliver the magic bullet strategy. C.K. – Director ******… My experience is that more-often-than-not the original strategy planned out looks quite different to that eventuallyimplemented. This lends credence to the fact that the implementation of a strategic plan is a "journey", where flexibilityand compromise are mandatory skills in order to deal with unplanned & unexpected obstacles that inevitably arise alongthe way.As we know, the Leader must have the passion and ability to have a clear vision and understanding of the goal, as well asthe leadership skills to clearly "sell" this to the organization.After all, it is the Leaders attitude and his/her ability to mentor & coach those selected leaders embedded within theorganization that make the difference between success & failure. No matter how good the Leader or the strategy is, it willall become derailed if you cant obtain buy-in from these folks. For in reality, it is they who must carry and demonstrate thesame level of passion and leadership to inspire their staff & colleagues to reach the goal.If this doesnt happen, no matter how well thought-out a strategy is, it risks failure during the implementation process. Itmust be a team effort. D.M. - Managing Director ****** Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 19. 19The strategy does not get translated effectively and/or efficiently from leadership through the ranks to those whoimplement/execute the activities. T.P. – Business & Technical Leader ******From my experience (CEO and, at other times, Consultant) Change management requires the following elements:Stakeholders in the change from every department, management and staff. The risks & benefits of (not/) implementing thePlan must be communicated to & from all stakeholders, A Change Management Plan developed by all stake holders. ThePlan must be visual. The Plan must surface Critical Success Factors. The Plan must address individual task and activities.The Plan must address timelines. The Plan must address failure modes and contingencies. The Plan must address KPIsexpected after the change is implemented and those KPIs must be reported and followed up upon.Utilizing these steps is a serious investment of leadership and time. The old saying is true -- Measure twice, cut once. Yet,when done this way, I have seen pretty complex change get implemented successfully. It also brings people anddepartments together, creating allies. Change is ultimately about people, more than equipment. Thus, the emphasisneeds to be with the people. G.R. – CEO ******The days when a leader (like Napoleon Bonaparte) developed a strategy and an organization executed it are over ... Ihope.Strategy development and execution are the responsibility of all of the organization ... only they dont know it. F.L. –Professor & Consultant ******Not Sure Who Is Responsible For ResultsLack of clearly defined actions, owners and accountability/monitoring. SL - Vice President ******Strategies fail because there are no clear execution parameters. People try to move ahead but are unsure exactly whatthey should do, who all should be involved ... G.S – Regional Manager Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 20. 20BibliographyLantsiti, (2010). One Strategy: Aligning Planning & Execution. Boston: Harvard Business Press. The chief impediment tosuccessful strategy execution is inertia. He identifies Dell‟s direct sale model as one example– “Execution continued alongthe old inertial path, and the organization failed to adapt”. (Comments at http://www.accountcaffeine.com/blog/)Robert S Kaplan, D. P. (2008). The Execution Premium. Boston, Mass, USA: Harvard Business Publishing Corporation.Kaplan and Norton concluded in a 2006 on-line survey of 143 performance management professionals “that having aformal strategy execution system made success two to three times as likely as did not having such a program” (Robert SKaplan, 2008) page 5“Our problem is not about the strategy itself, but about our execution of it” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP in 2007 (RobertKaplan, 2008) page Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com
  • 21. 21 END Brian Shepherd Shepherd Consulting LLC http://www.accountcaffeine.com linkedin.com/in/briansshepherd San Francisco 415-516-8433Shepherd Consulting LLC brian@accountcaffeine.com