A considerable amount of content has been produced on the subject of strategy development, with numerous blogs and books dedicated to it. This abundance is understandable as formulating an innovative strategy for your organization is an enjoyable task. After all, who wouldn’t want to engage their mind in devising ways to make a positive impact on the world?
But there’s a problem. Despite all the research and ink spilled on developing strategy–the results lag far behind. It turns out that most strategies–from 30 percent up to 70 percent–either fail or deliver poor results.
Those are sobering numbers. And the reason is not that the strategy itself was bad. It’s just that it fell apart during its (lack of) implementation.
As an old saying goes: “Without successful implementation, strategy is but a fantasy.”
A Lack of Alignment
The primary culprit for a failed strategy–where things go wrong–is when the people who develop the strategy don’t build alignment with the people charged with executing it. In most cases, senior leadership is responsible for developing the strategy, and then they hand it off to their middle managers to execute.
Two primary examples include:
1. Feet Dragging. This is where people nod their heads and pretend, they’re following the plan even as they slow down the process–or even take steps to shut it down by doing nothing. These people are not bought in, so they don’t care if the job gets done.
2. Information Hoarding. When people aren’t bought into a plan, they may hold back key information that’s needed to execute it. These are people with access to knowledge, either digital or in their heads, that they withhold knowing that by doing so they are likely killing the strategy as a result. It’s essentially a passive-aggressive way of protesting that they should have been involved in creating the strategy in the first place.
The net result of behaviors like this is that all organizational arrows are not pointed in the same direction. Said another way, even if the plan is brilliant but it is not getting buy-in, it’s become worthless.
So, how do you get middle management to buy into the strategy?
There is a Japanese phrase, “kyatchibōru,” that translates as “catchball.” Think of two people tossing a ball back and forth.
This becomes an iterative process–tossing the strategy back and forth–until everyone is happy. Doing that ensures buy-in to the plan while eliminating the destructive behaviors that would kill it.
Of course, there is a bit of a downside with this approach to strategy in that it’s slow and can take a long time to complete. It’s been my experience that some people don’t have the patience for it.
But they ignore this approach to commitment building around strategy at their peril. Because, without it, your strategy, as brilliant as it might be, is next to worthless.
So, when putting your organization on the right strategic path, don’t try and fast-track it if you haven’t first gotten real buy-in from the people you’re asking to execute it.