Top 10 Reasons Strategy Execution Fails (Part 1)

Top 10 Reasons Strategy Execution Fails (Part 1)

May 16, 2018 Strategy
Top 10 Reasons Strategy Execution Fails (Part 1) -

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”   Robert Burns



Please excuse the nod to my Scottish heritage. Roughly translated in a commercial sense, it was summed up by the Economist Intelligence Unit

“Almost Half of all Strategic Initiatives Fail Due to Poor Execution”

It’s no longer a secret that most companies struggle with strategy execution. According to Forbes Asia in 2016 quoting McKinsey research that 70 percent of change efforts fall short of desired results.

But what do we mean by “execution”? Neilson, Martin and Powers described execution as “the result of thousands of decisions made every day by employees acting according to the information they have and their own self-interest”. So, it stands to reason that if they don’t have the right information and interests are not aligned you are in trouble straight away.

Here are my reasons for such failure. The first one is sacrosanct in its position. The others can vary.


1.Failing to hold one another accountable

Planning equals change, and in the plan that’s developed, each leader must commit to changing by doing more of the things that result in success and fewer of the things that don’t. In high-performing organisations, accountability is not just top-down, it’s bottom-up and side-to-side.

As a leader, you make the rules of the game. It’s up to you to structure your planning process so that you and your colleagues can deliver winning performance.

“Accountability Starts with You!

You get what you tolerate

You role model what others will see as acceptable

A leader who is not accountable impacts every aspect of the business”

If It’s Going to Be, It’s up to Me: The Eight Proven Principles of Possibility Thinking

by Robert H. Schuller


2. You do not understand the Rule of 168

This rule holds true for every person on planet earth. There are exactly 168 hours in a week. You cannot make time. So, you know it is not possible when someone tells you they will make time to do something. Yet we hear that and accept it all too often. Choosing what you are going to ignore may well represent the most important, most strategic time-management decision of all.

Strategy, at its most basic level, is a set of choices and trade-offs about where an organization will invest, compete, and win. Invariably, that means every “yes” to an idea or initiative requires a “no” to several others to secure the success of the first initiative. Executives are often dishonest or naive about trade-offs. If you cannot say “no”, you will quickly find yourself overloaded with obligations. Learn to limit what you take on so that you have not spent all your available time before you even begin.

The rules of time management have changed. A recent CIO magazine article said it well. “Now, our inboxes never stop and they follow us around-the-clock. In the past, the goal of good time management was to get things done. Your goal these days is more than that – it’s about finishing what needs to be done and being clear on what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. It’s also about knowing what you are not going to do.”

3. You do not understand what Commitment is

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, “commitment” is that to which one has committed oneself; a pledge or the extent to which we will inconvenience ourselves to accomplish something. It reflects motivation and confidence. In other words, it is a promise that people will go to significant effort to keep because they want to do it and are confident they can make it happen. If any of these ingredients are missing then you probably have tasks that individuals feel have been forced upon them and will just nod agreement and consequently they will be half hearted in their efforts.

4. You do not follow up

According to Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM, in his book Who Said Elephants Can’t Dance. “people do what is inspected, not expected”. Follow up, it’s not an option.  Your competitors are committed to follow up!  It’s not an option because when you opened your business you committed yourself to deliver to your customers.  If you’re not doing follow up, then you are not committed to deliver to your potential customers.  So why is this discipline lacking in many businesses?

In simple but hard-hitting terms, pick any of the following reasons: laziness, indifference, weakness, ignorance, stupidity. Any of your executives displaying one or more of these should be coached up or coached out!

Without metrics you don’t know where you have been, where you are and where you are going. Creating a dashboard provides managers a straightforward way to communicate to the organization what is most important to achieving success. It aligns employees to the company’s objectives. Without it, employees have no way of knowing if progress is being made. This is an essential tool of strategy management and cannot be missed.

“If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it….

If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it…..

If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

Dr H.J. Harrington

I have found that a modified version of Lou Gerstner’s approach has always worked for me, namely

“What’s Expected Gets Inspected”


Read Part 2 in next month’s newsletter.


Phil Kerrigan

Senior Strategist &  Executive Business Coach



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