Strategy Execution mistakes in business: 50 experts list the top 5
90% of organisations are failing on their strategy execution. Yes, you read that correctly.
Although it's a staggering number, when you look at some of the facts, it's clear to see why.
- 85% of leadership teams spend less than one hour per month on strategy
- 95% of employees are unaware of their company's strategies
- 50% of leadership teams spend no time AT ALL on strategy
For those that are fully focused on strategy, there are still some common mistakes and failures that are widely seen. In an effort to try and highlight these pitfalls, we asked 50 strategy experts for their insight and advice on what to look out for.
1: Lack of alignment or clarity on strategy
Making sure your strategy is aligned to the long-term aims of the business is pivotal. Ensuring that both the strategic focus and organisational capabilities of your teams align gives companies the best chance of success with strategy execution.
How do you know when you're unaligned? Teams will lack the understanding of HOW to reach their goals, there will almost certainly be different expectations across departments, wide-scale double keying of work, and much more.
Beyond that, managers need to know WHY your teams are doing the work they are doing. That may sound obvious, but as Richard Orme suggested in a recent podcast:
If you as a leader cannot explain why one of your team members is doing the work they are doing, and have CONVICTION that it is worth doing it, then YOU ARE NOT DOING YOUR JOB!
Although obvious, it's not something many are making sure of behind the scenes, as only 5% of employees are aware of and/or understand their company’s strategy.
Alignment on strategy facilitates momentum, speed, and efficiency. However, Head of Product at Zalando, Roland Butler, explains that failure to regularly communicate and align at a senior level can result in a cascade of divergence through the organisation. Too many topics end up being progressed that don’t relate to each other. At first this can look Ok, but suddenly you realise you are fixing problems on side projects when you should have been focused on the main mission.
Peter Munro, CFO of Intent HQ, further attested to this management issue, as he himself admitted to having previously assumed everyone’s understanding of a business objective to be the same, when in fact each manager had different interpretations of said goal.
2: Too many priorities/Lack of focus
Having too many priorities and or a lack of focus on strategy execution was cited as a main mistake by a majority of the 50 experts.
It's tough for an elephant to be agile, meaning that businesses can be slow in decision making, lack agility, slow to spot trends, and even slower to pivot, which is key for the continuous improvement needed in the fiercely competitive business landscape of 2022.
One respondent to our survey, a CTO and former CPO of a fortune 500 organisation, emphasised the above point, suggesting that many focus on a whole sector, rather than a niche in it. Strategy has to be streamlined and until the team are bored of hearing it you haven't communicated it well enough.
"The surest way of getting someone to fail at one thing is to ask them to do multiple things or share the responsibility with others." - Oliver Cummings, CEO, Nurole
The old adage of 'just getting sh*t done' as Ross Boyd MBE suggested in his answer, negates the proper planning and deep intellectual thought needed at all levels as a precursor to action.
Although focus is imperative to success, Mohammad Chbib, Founder & CEO, also referenced the need to focus on what matters, as a pure number focus, and the finger-pointing around excel spreadsheets cannot be described (and often is), as succesful strategy execution.
3: Lack or bottom up feedback & challenging of strategy
Strategy created by those at the top without any input from a wider team is not strategy, at least not one that many teams would have confidence in executing. A study at Queen’s University stated that 39% of employees feel a lack of collaboration in their workplace, and a further 71% of employees believe that their leaders do not spend enough time communicating goals and plans...
Entrepreneur, Business Advisor, and author, Barry O'Reilly, gave an answer to our survey that echoed the above stats, suggesting that the biggest mistake that many businesses and management teams are making with strategy is the lack of challenges from below, leading employees to mutter "that makes sense" with little pushback.
"Good strategy is saying no" - Barry O'Reilly
The stark reality is that often, strategy and therefore the focus of execution, is being formulated in a silo (usually C-level/Board) then presented 'as decided and signed off' to leadership teams and their subordinates without consultation - CEO, Various high-growth SMEs.
As NED, CTO, Advisor to Founders, Dominic Cameron suggested, those at the coal face, and therefore executing on strategy, need to involved in the conception, planning, targets, and much more to ensure success. Minimal allowance for iteration and feedback from those doing the work will lead to failure, even if signs of success show initially.
4: Communication and presentation of goals & strategy
AKA sending out your strategy in a slide deck and just hoping everyone "gets it"....
Corporate veteran and consultant for Strategy Execution, Shalom Passy, stated that it might even be worse than this, as many companies don't have a future proof strategy, and those that do just chuck it in an "80 pages Power Point that no one at management buys-in for."
"Even if they build their Strategy at Management level, companies do not know how to document it into a tool that enables follow-up for Execution. After 3 months it becomes obsolete" - Shalom Passy
An operating partner of a high-value AI startup and co-founder of an aviation company contributed by suggesting that the biggest failure communication wise comes from management teams saying one thing ("we believe in trust”) and doing the opposite (weekly deep dives). Arun Poojari also echoed this thought, suggesting that the main mistake he's seen in strategy execution is the inability to translate a grand vision to execution and governance frameworks inside businesses.
This was further hit home by Guy Lock MBE, People and Operations Management/Change expert, who suggested that the middle (operational) level of the business are often the ones to miss out on direction and actions.
So it's not surprising that this poor presentation and communication of goals leads to increased employee turnover, poor customer service, lower productivity, and much more.
5: Lack of measurement
When it comes to the success of strategy execution, measurement is key. A common theme in the feedback from our 50 strategy experts was the basic lack of measurement seen in many organisations, just a bunch of daily tasks with "so what?" being asked upon completion.
Startup Founder, Manar Hussain, reinforced the idea that businesses are failing to accurately measure the execution of their strategy, instead measuring assuming they are where they want to be, instead of where they actually are.
One of the biggest pitfalls of poor measurement is that it makes it incredibly hard for businesses to stay agile and pivot. Ahmed Abdelrahman, CTO of Bayzat, noted that a common mistake he's seen in this area is businesses waiting too long to understand that something is wrong with their excursion that need to be fixed or replaced.
Other contributors, including a startup CEO and Strategy VP at enterprise organisations, cited poor visualisation of goals, weak forecasting and cost control, poor measurement, and weak operational controls, as well as the inability to provide feedback due to lack of measurement as the most damming of issues for modern businesses and main reason as to why so many fail.