6 Reasons Strategies Fail in Hard Times…and How to Avoid Them

There are six common reasons strategies fail, but knowing them is only half the battle. Here are action plans for meeting them head-on.

Even in good times 61% of organizations struggle to implement strategies. But this No Good times. The bull market that has held for the better part of a decade is rapidly dissolving, and dark clouds of recession are emerging on the horizon. The next great economic sifting is underway, and only organizations with a clear, actionable strategy will stand.

popular Article in Harvard Business Review came to the conclusion that the epidemic of failed strategies is the result of insufficient training of managers who do not understand their competitive environment. Undoubtedly, there is some truth in this conclusion, but it is an incomplete picture. There are several reasons why your strategy will fail and you don’t have much time to proactively reinforce your plan. Here are six of the most common reasons why your strategy won’t work and how to avoid them.

1. You haven’t made your strategy work.

Take a second to consider with this hypothetical.

The fast food restaurant chain has lost its leading position in the market. The board of the company engages a team of consultants to implement the company’s strategy: “Win the largest market share in our industry.”

See the problem? A firm’s “strategy” is not really a strategy at all. This is the goal.

Professor at London Business School Frick Vermeulen considers strategy as “a clear set of options that determine what the firm is going to do and what not.” Arrogantly stating what a firm hopes to achieve or become in the future is not a strategy, yet many organizations still fall prey to this common mistake.

In McChrystal Group’s work with hundreds of organizations, we found that only 53% of employees agree that their organization’s strategies are feasible; Organizations without an actionable roadmap to implement strategies are all too common.

Action plan

Chat one-on-one with up to three junior level members. Spend five minutes describing the strategy, and then ask them what they will and will not do to implement the described strategy. If they can answer clearly and concisely, then the strategy is working. If they use vague language or can’t describe what they won’t do, you’ll need to rethink your strategy.

2. You haven’t prioritized your initiatives.

We all juggle too many competing priorities. This is one of the main reasons modern strategies fail.

Leaders must ruthlessly prioritize. However, this is incredibly difficult to do in practice. Data from McCrystal Group shows that only about half of employees agree that management communicates priorities when their team is working on multiple projects.

Your team may be able to accelerate and quickly juggle multiple competing priorities in the short term. But the lack of leadership priorities in the long run will overtake teams and lead to permanent bottlenecks in the organization.

Our data also shows that leadership teams that are better than average at articulating their organizational priorities are 45% less likely to experience difficulties than those with poor prioritization.

Action plan

List your team’s strategic initiatives and, in one sentence, describe how they contribute to the strategy. Rearrange tasks in order of importance and redistribute resources among initiatives at the top. If a team is working on an off-list project or task, stop them immediately.

3. You’re tracking the wrong metrics.

Think about it: the state government is concerned about the recent rise in crime rates and is asking its data team to identify the root cause. The team unexpectedly concludes that ice cream sales and crime rates are positively correlated. So the governor decides to impose high taxes on ice cream.

It seems unlikely that ice cream affects crime rates, or vice versa. However, the data do point to a positive association between ice cream sales and home penetration rates. This story is a classic example of mixing variables, as the trend in ice cream sales and crime rates depend on a third variable, warmer weather.

While your organization may not be tracking ice cream and crime data, it may be diverting resources to measuring the wrong metrics.

Misleading numbers are most harmful in rapidly changing business environments. When data can go from reliable to misleading in a single quarter, leaders must quickly adapt their organizations’ strategies. However, McChrystal Group research shows that only half of employees agree that their company is adapting its strategies to changes in the environment.

Action plan

Measurement strategies are often based on what metric is convenient or historically used. Often these metrics will descriptively tell you how are things going but no why do they happen. If the metric does not answer the question “why”, we can only hypothesize. Hence, important strategic decisions are based on guesswork rather than data, which is another major reason why many strategies fail. For each of your team’s KPIs, categorize them into “how to measure” and “why measure” categories. If you don’t have enough “why” metrics, you should develop a new measurement strategy.

4. Your team is not configured.

There is a common story, possibly based on reality, that shortly after his “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech, President John F. Kennedy was touring NASA headquarters and came across a janitor with a broom. President Kennedy asks the man what his job is at NASA, to which the man replies, “Mr. Kennedy.” President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Organizational alignment centered around a common goal enables us to achieve more than we think possible. Employees of a single organization can confidently connect their personal values ​​with the values ​​of their organization. The alignment clearly articulates how Why and How to achieve goals.

On the contrary, uncoordinated organizations exacerbate the current epidemic of a disunited workforce. According to Gallup, as many as 85% of the surveyed employees are not involved or not actively involved in the work. When asked by McChrystal Group researchers to think about the future of their company, approximately 60% of employees reported feeling motivated to succeed in their jobs.

The implementation of the strategy is driven by those closest to the operation. However, a disinterested workforce therefore hinders successful strategy implementation by organizations.

Action plan

Develop your strategy with collective input. Consensus doesn’t always come naturally, but there are ways to encourage collaboration. Make strategy development an iterative process. Involve your team in the first discussions, then get involved and strategize. Then ask them to test the strategy and find weaknesses that can be corrected to ensure success. Including them in multiple steps throughout the process will create accountability for the successful plan they created together.

5. Leaders don’t hold their teams accountable.

In the past month, how many times have you left a positive review for a teammate? What about the negative? in cross-functional study of 60 leadership teams, the researchers found that the top-performing teams had a 5:1 positive-to-negative ratio. The context in which criticism is given is just as important as the amount of criticism.

Amy Edmondson describes organizational culture through the prism psychological safety and accountability. The most effective feedback is achieved when both responsibility and psychological safety are present. When teams lack accountability but remain psychologically secure, they go into action. comfort zone, in which learning is absent and errors are not corrected. Alternatively, employees in disturbance zone afraid to make mistakes or speak up when responsibility is high and psychological security is low.

Lack of accountability in teams is a common problem, as evidenced by our research, which shows that when goals are not being met, only 38% of respondents agree that responsible parties are held accountable for their actions. As they move towards a learning organization, leaders must hold their teams accountable and develop a high safety culture.

Action plan

Leaders can ensure accountability through the following three-step process. First, break down the strategy into specific initiatives that have identified indicators of success. Second, appoint a single leader with public responsibility for the execution of each initiative. Third, establish a regular cadence for senior management to debrief on the status of initiatives. A combination of specific goals, ownership and regular reviews will promote accountability and results.

6. There are significant capacity gaps in your team.

If you have ever ridden a bike, you might think that this is a simple machine. Compared to a car or a boat, yes. But you probably know a lot less about cycling than you think.

Take, for example, the gears of a bicycle. Could you elaborate on how shifting gears affects pedaling resistance? What about his speed? When we consider the mechanics of the ordinary objects we use in our lives, we find that we know much less than we previously thought. We call this phenomenon the illusion of explanatory depth.

Your strategy fails when your teams are under the illusion that we know more than we really do. When we are given a strategy to execute, our initial instinct may not be to consider our inability to complete a task, yet McChrystal Group survey data shows that 62% of employees indicate they need greater access to experience to achieve their business goals. .

Action plan

Many leaders mistakenly create long-term strategies based on the teams they currently have, creating unnecessary constraints and narrowing of vision. The idea is to develop strategies that will lead to success both now and in the future. To do this, conduct a capability audit to identify existing gaps, whether it be the skills, experience, knowledge, or expertise of your team. Conduct an audit at the strategic initiative or project level to have a clear understanding of what is required to successfully complete each initiative. When you combine these needs, you will have a clear idea of ​​what specific capabilities are missing.

Fortune favors the brave. Your strategy may not be perfect, and the future is bleak at best. However, you can prepare for tough times. If you take proactive steps now to avoid these reasons why strategies fail, you will be in the right position to weather the storm and emerge victorious from it.

Written by David Livingston and Harley Zhu.

Harley Zhu is an employee of the McCrystal Group. He is currently working with a leading pharmaceutical company to evaluate its organizational structure and implement solutions to improve the product development lifecycle. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Yale University.


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