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7 reasons why strategies fail in implementation

A road sign for a street called Fail

In "The Fractal Organisation", Patrick Hoverstadt claims that between 90% and 98% of strategic plans are never implemented.

The reasons for this include:

1. Strategies are not differentiated and specific.

The first failing of strategy must be vagueness and/or blandness. As Machiavelli has said, "There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success than to initiate a new order of things". To have any chance of success, a strategic plan must from the outset be bold and clear.

2. Strategies are not known and understood.

Articulating a differentiated and specific strategy is no good if the people who must implement it are:

  • not aware of it, or
  • aware of it, do not understand it.

The strategy must be articulated and communicated in such a manner that it engages the implementers. This often requires a style of communication quite different to what is appropriate for the people who formulated it (if they are a different group). It is better still if the implementers know and understand the strategy by because they were involved in formulating it.

3. Strategies are not actionable.

Understanding a strategy will not deliver results unless the strategy is actionable. That is, each person in the organisation must know what it is they will do as a result of the strategy. What they will do can fall into three categories:

  • start doing, 
  • stop doing or
  • do differently.

It is only in the doing that new organisational habits develop and the strategy will become sustainable.   Merely knowing how things should be different and wanting them to be different is insufficient. You must know how to act differently.

4. Strategies are not linked to departmental, team and individual objectives.

Such actions must become embedded in existing departmental, team and individual objectives.

If this is not so, then existing objectives will continue to work against and undermine the delivery of the strategy. Note that even if the existing departmental, team and individual objectives are not formally written down, they still exist in established norms and behaviours and must be addressed.

5. People do not act according to their departmental, team and individual objectives.

If this is the case, then you have a fundamental problem of discipline. Linking the objectives to reward (see below) may go some way to alleviating this.

6. Strategies are not linked to structure, resource allocation and reward.

The old adage that "Structure follows strategy" is most certainly true. You cannot expect an existing (organisation) system to produce a different result without changing the system. Such changes do not only enable the delivery of the strategy. They also send an important signal to the whole organisation that the strategy is a real, tangible and significant change.

7. Feedback and management reporting is tactical, not strategic.

Likewise, it is said that "You get what you measure", and measurement systems must also be brought in line with the new strategy. Organisations are frequently tempted to measure:

  • that for which the data is readily to hand or just
  • that which is required of them, by regulation, for example.

A new strategy will require new measurements.  Often these will require new measurement processes and systems.   Failure to invest in these will ultimately mean that the organisation will revert to the behaviours encouraged by its existing measures.

At the heart of all of this, is one simple fact: strategies will not be delivered if they are formulated, communicated and implemented in a way which allows individuals to continue to act in the way they did before the strategy was formulated. That is, if they are vague enough that different people with different agendas can honestly all find in the strategy sufficient justification for their pre-existing plans. A successful strategy must engage all implementers in all their activities in different behaviours. is the online tool for collaborative business strategy development and execution which is designed to overcome all of these problems.

Finally, it is worth noting that the successful implementation of a strategy will count for nothing if the strategy itself was not good in the first place! But that is a subject for another day.

photo credit: Tony Webster Fail Street - Camden, Alabama via photopin (license)


Anonymous said...

I think this article is bang on and clearly diagnises the strategy implementation challenges. Really useful and realistic insights. Thanks very much for sharing!

Chris said...

Thanks for the feedback and really glad you found the post helpful.

Anonymous said...

Good work of highlighting the key areas

Unknown said...

I like that you call out the misalignment of departmental et al objectives and strategy and that people also aren't always required to act in line with objectives even if they are aligned. I've often seen both these failings scupper a great strategy

Alfarargy said...

Thanks a lot .. It is very useful