Implementing strategy? Leadership is job #1.
Not long ago, we reached out to members of our LinkedIn community to get their thoughts on barriers to successfully implementing a business strategy. More than 250 business leaders responded, providing us with a wealth of information on what they have experienced and observed. Our investigations confirmed what our experience had suggested. There are many things leaders can do to deal effectively with change and give their business strategy the best chance of succeeding.
In Part 1 of this series, we explored accountability, simplicity and engagement. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at leadership, a critical factor in successfully implementing a business strategy.
Removing barriers starts at the top
According to many respondents, effective leadership, or more correctly the absence of effective leadership, is the single greatest barrier to successfully implementing a business strategy. Effective leadership demands hard decisions and unwavering support for agreed-upon initiatives. This message was delivered in a variety of ways with some respondents making the point directly and others associating poor leadership with an overly egalitarian approach, or a lack of accountability, communication, focus or some other factor.
Wanted: Leaders who will take charge
As one respondent put it, getting buy-in from employees is essential. It must be confirmed at various points throughout the planning process, being careful not to unduly delay or paralyze implementation plans. “Each project requires a leader who drives the process. Too often we seek buy-in from everyone in order not to offend, but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Of course, one needs the complete commitment of senior leadership to make the decision.”
To another respondent, passion is all too often missing from the process. Employees look to their leaders for and clues about the effort that they should be investing in various activities. When leaders fail to model appropriate levels of enthusiasm and commitment, staff members are likely to emulate their behaviour. “As a leader you have to have passion for the plan / mission and demonstrate it constantly with your team.”
Leading with bit-sized challenges
In our experience, staff members at all levels of an organization can feel overwhelmed by the prospect of adding to their regular workload – particularly when they come up against a barrier that cannot be easily overcome. Unless this pressure can be relieved, implementation is an uphill battle. One respondent posed a way of alleviating this problem: “I've found that it helps to have a respected senior management champion who pushes the change along and is committed to removing barriers so that people can get on with it.”
Another suggested a way of dealing with this and also with the distractions that can result from conflicting priorities. “The conclusion I have come to is that managerial attention span can be an issue. The solution might be to break the long-term strategy down into bite size, short term pieces.”
The need to overcome issues like these is the reason we introduced a revolving 90-day Action Agenda to each of our strategic planning assignments. Identifying tasks that can be completed, realistically, in the 90 days following approval of a plan, and updating this list at 90-day intervals, helps eliminate any issues associated with conflicting priorities and unfair workloads.