Most strategies fail because of the low level of engagement

Strategy execution has been a clear challenge for managers over time. A review made by the Journal of Management & Organizations (2015) shows that the average success rate of the strategy execution is 50%, which is incredibly low. The reasons for failure are around two big spheres: strategy formulation itself and the human factor.

As per strategy formulation involves that sometimes companies do not have a clear set of choices that define what they are going to do or not going to do, which makes it harder for decision-making. Among the main reasons why the formulation fails are the overwhelming plans, the unclear accountability, the ambiguity, and the unrealistic goals.

The human factor involves the level of engagement of the team and the development of the right mindset when a drastic change is involved. In many cases, execution fails because executives see it as a merely top-down process, where they develop the strategy and then everyone implements it. That just does not work because the team will not understand the purpose of the strategy, so they will not feel linked to it nor their tasks. Also, sometimes implementation requires people to change their habits, and habits are sticky and persistent, people do not change just because they are told to act differently. 

We want to focus on how to mitigate the risk of failing in terms of the human factor, mainly, because people are the final executors of any strategy and experts usually focus on the strategy formulation approach.

 In this order of ideas, what if we involve our working teams in the strategy development and communication? Employees who are aligned with the corporate strategy find a deeper meaning of their job, develop a higher sense of belonging to the company, and increase their productivity. Additionally, as employees are the ones who continuously interact with outside stakeholders, it is easier for them to identify challenges and to generate ideas in their respective sides of the business, insights that are key for planning. Therefore, when the employees are involved and the strategy is properly absorbed by them, implementation is more likely to be successful.

Harvard professor John Kotterr, in his book “Accelerate”, tells us about the eight steps necessary to lead change in organizations. The first four of them give us insights on how this human factor should be addressed. 

  1. Create a sense of urgency: It is the inspirational way how the company calls to action, showing that there is work to be done. 
  2. Build a guiding coalition: The firm with his speech gets followers of its plan, who take it as their own and get in charge of its coordination and communication.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives: The company and its team translate the purpose into a strategy and an action plan.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army: it is only possible to carry out the plan, when there is a team to execute it.

Furthermore, a key piece that marginally increases the success of the strategy and complements these steps is assertive communication. Some of its characteristics are:

  • Simplicity: Tell the story behind and share the deep meaning but always in a concise and simple way.
  • Genuinity & congruence: Align all the actions and processes to show congruency with the speech.
  • Tangibility: everyone should understand the objectives and how they collaborate in their achievement.
  • Double way: Create spaces for two way communication, feedback is key to identify possible stoppers or points of improvement.
  • Reinforcing: Be consistent and do not be afraid of over communicate with words and actions. 

In conclusion, the probability of success of a correctly formulated strategy is directly influenced by the company’s ability to engage the team into the strategizing journey. This is achieved with an open communication culture that allows ideas to flow from whether the bottom-up or the top-down of the company, and encourages continuous feedback.


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