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Why do so many well analysed and planned strategic initiatives — some say up to 70% — fail to be implemented successfully?

How to make your strategy simple

One of the reasons so many strategies fail in their implementation is the lack of tangibility in its execution.

Or in the words of Donald Sull from London Business School: “Every strategy that is too complicated to execute is not a strategy. It’s a book report”.

What makes a strategy executable

A strategy that should succeed in its implementation has to be remembered by the whole organisation.

To be remembered, people have to understand what the strategy is about, and the easiest way to realise an understandable strategy is by simplifying it.

Executable strategies are neither complicated nor are they fancy — they are just a simple description of what an organisation is striving for.

Sometimes an executable strategy is even just a single sentence that describes where the organisation is heading.

If people do not understand what an organisations’ strategy is about, they cannot work in a way that supports its realisation.

Basically, organisations would put lots of effort in a strategy most people will probably ignore or try to avoid dealing with, which will ultimately lead to strategic failure.

If the solution for strategic success is a simplification, why do so many organisations not seize the chance of making strategy simple, understandable and tangible?

One of the reasons why many companies struggle with formulating a simple strategy is that strategic management is often seen as something that has to be done on an annual basis rather than a dynamic, open process.

As an example, take a look at the case of NOKIA, who completely missed out on strategic pivots.

Furthermore, strategic management is seen as something hyper-analytical and logical that only the super smart and outstanding clever people can devise.

Something that is too complicated to make it understandable for everyone.

The result is an annual strategic handbook that is presented at the annual meeting and is then never seen again. Even if the worked out strategy is superb.

However, stepping back for a moment and translating the strategic handbook into an easier language brings a lot of benefits.

First of all, you move your organisations from working on something that makes sense on paper to something that has a purpose for the organisation.

By making people aware of the strategy, you can move from something that seems to be logical to do towards something that is actually feeling worth doing.

People need to understand the bigger picture and why their work matters to get engaged, to be excited about what is happening and to go the extra mile to realise it — even in tough times.

5 important questions to answer to simplify your strategy

A simplified strategy should give easy answers to the following five questions:

  • What is our business?
  • What kind of value do we provide to our customers?
  • What do we do that sets us apart from competitors?
  • What do we need to do today to matter tomorrow?
  • How do we do that?

As soon as you have the answers, try to formulate a simple strategy statement — may it be a short sentence or a long text.

The style does not really matter as long as people understand it. And of course, they should like to read or listen to it.

However, it is not that easy to get all the answers to the above questions immediately and without effort.

You will, indeed, need all the strategic management methods and tools you learned at business school and you may even need strategy consultants and coaches.

Yet, what sets a great strategy apart from a good strategy is stepping back at the end of the process and translating your work into easy words that matter.

You have to show where the magic happens and what you are aiming for as an organisation.

You have to get to a point where everybody says: “I know what we are doing here!”. To get there, you must engage your workforce and align your whole organisation.

But strategy alone is not enough.

Organisations need more than just a strategy that people understand. It is highly important to create a culture that matches your strategic pathway.

Aligning culture and strategy is one of the most difficult parts managers face. A proven way to deal with that is the formulation of a vision that drives the organisation.

Ask yourself what your people are eager to do. What makes them get up every Monday? If you can define a vision from bottom-up, you can validate your strategy.

Does your strategy match your vision and culture? And if not, why is that the case? Do you have to consider strategic or cultural alignments? How can you implement them and what are the critical steps?

Make sure that your strategy becomes part of your organisations’ DNA and aligns it holistically. It has to set you apart from the competition and other companies.

And you must get into a strategic flow and review your initiatives, programs and projects on a regular basis.

Do you have to pivot or not? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!


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