Change is hard. Strategic change is even harder – particularly when the strategy lacks clarity, alignment, and senior leader confidence. One of the more frightening statistics on strategic change comes from a Strategy& study that discovered that more than 53% of senior executives don’t have the confidence that their strategy sets them up to win in the marketplace.
Ironically, one of the universal truth’s we’ve uncovered in our 30 years of helping organizations is that there are three great lies being told at the executive level:
- We have a strategy,
- We are aligned on that strategy, and
- We have data to support that strategy
At the core of these three lies is the reality that most senior teams bandy about familiar strategic words, but those words don’t mean the same thing to each leader.
To compound the fact that most leaders are not clear or aligned on the strategies they create, their managers equally struggle to interpret that strategy so they can translate it to their people. Set in that context, it’s no wonder that individual contributors have no idea what they can do to contribute to new strategies or connect their role to murky directives to successfully support and execute on the strategy.
So why does this happen in organization after organization? There are two root causes:
- Strategy execution through people requires well-defined processes to implement change, which are usually not present.
- The methods and approaches that unlock human energy are not the common tools of choice.
In reality, the most common approach to execute a strategy has little to do with process. It’s typically a cross of “sunshine pump” (churning out only good news) and increased demands for more accountability (get on board or get out). As a matter a fact, we polled a group of senior executives and asked why they didn’t see strategy execution through people as a process. They said there are several contributing factors:
- Ambivalence about who should own the process.
- The realization that a different set of skills is necessary to do it well.
- A general belief that people should “just do it” and a process isn’t necessary.
All three contribute to the reality that 60 to 90% of our strategies don’t get executed.
Unless people bring the best of themselves with excitement, ownership, advocacy, creativity, resilience, and persistence, the “immune mechanisms” for organizational change kick in and “this effort shall too pass” without realizing the dreams and aspirations for the future.
There is a better way
Rather than focusing on helping just a few people see the future, it’s far more critical to engage the energy of an entire company. This new approach centers on democratizing strategic information. The real level for success is bringing strategic ideas and issues to life in a language that makes sense for all employees of an organization. Engagement is not one-dimensional. It’s found in sports, friendship, books, music – all facets of life, really. It can be effortless, natural, and magnetic. It’s learning to tap people across an organization in the same compelling and sustained way so they have no choice but to feel captivated, drawn in, and connected.
And this needs to be part of a process. Most organizations spend little time assessing how well they’re executing their strategy through their people. And they’re not thinking about each level of the organization in a different way. Treating those roles and levels in unique ways is part of the process. You have to think about how you’ll create a line of sight – a common view of the strategy from the individual role to the marketplace – for each level and how you’ll connect those roles to the goals. Then, look at the capabilities you currently have in the organization to reach those goals and where you may have voids. Most important, realize that this will not happen overnight. Think about how you’re going to measure the success of these efforts and how you’ll make adjustments based on the results.
Change is part of a big lifecycle. It’s a process. It takes time. Planning for change and viewing it as a process will deliver those first steps of success and be a critical ingredient to ensure sustained execution.