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Why Strategic Initiatives Often Don’t Happen

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Lack of clarity.  Some of this may relate to how the strategy has been
articulated, but I believe the best antidote to that is repetition… as well as follow
up on execution steps that reinforce it.  You are basically providing the “Why?”
and you cannot assume people will get it on the first try.  In fact, a major reason
for the slow assimilation is that most of the people in the organization don’t have
an open, continual or consistent view of the market.  The market (external) is
usually where the “Why?” comes from.  You need to channel this external view
on a regular basis.

[“If you can’t describe it simply, it’s not simple.”  Anonymous]

Too many initiatives.  Clutter is a bad thing when it comes to strategy and
strategy execution.  It’s one thing to manage a project with a multitude of steps
and participants.  It’s another to get people rallied around a common, yet rather
vague (at times) purpose.  Projects are like washing, polishing, and changing the
oil in your car.  Strategy is more like figuring out what car your family needs, how
you’re going to use it, what color and features you want, etc.  Having a limit of
three to five key initiatives is realistic, if you really want people collectively
engaged in the process of strategy execution.

[What are the real “game changers” or “market busters”?  What creates the
greatest competitive separation and how long will it last?”]

Strategic independence.  Your organization may foster this, as people attach
themselves to their particular technical group or customer-driven market sector
rather than to the company as a whole.  If so, most of their time will be spent on
their own strategic initiatives, with little time or real interest in supporting the wider
company strategic objectives.  The key here is alignment.

[I would start with the business unit plans and initiatives and then make sure they
are matched well with the collective plans and initiatives.  Do they support or
detract from corporate plans?  Do they support or detract from other
group/market sector plans?  Note: This situation is particularly dangerous if talent
and capital is scarce and trade offs must be made.  If we had to “eliminate the
federal deficit” what would we do?  What would we give up?]

Lack of time discipline.  Strategic initiatives should be completed in no more
than 18 months.  You are not designing and scheduling commercial passenger
flights to Mars!  This lack of time discipline usually emanates from one or more of
the following:
• People didn’t take the initiative seriously.
• They didn’t start with the idea of actually finishing it.
• They were capital constrained or talent constrained (see the first item).
• It was a dumb idea in the first place (or at best, not well defined).

[Watch for those items that come up time and time again.  How important can
they really be?]

Too many action steps.  The key to making progress is to set expectations and, in
turn, to receive promises that things will get done.  The follow-up can be very
painful (and quite frankly won’t ever get done) if there are too many of these
expectations and promises.  This is not just because there are too many to
review/measure, but because there are so many to renegotiate!

[However, don’t just reduce the number!  The action steps will end up too broad
or too vague and will likely become meaningless relative to follow up.  Instead
put them into “packets”.  For example, pilot projects, lab experiments, small
change/quick feedback loop initiatives, building blocks (with appropriate
“structural calculations” along the way), etc.  Always ask things like, “Who owns
this?”, “How will we know when we’re successful?”, and “What would be an
appropriate measure of our success?”]

Not enough appreciation for opportunism.  At best, you will achieve “prepared
opportunism”.  The markets and the world in general are too unpredictable, too
paradoxical, and too dynamic to think otherwise.  There can be a tendency to
plan the business like it’s a corporate event or a municipal infrastructure project.
Carpe Diem is highly underrated by those who think the business world is
sequential and linear.  Many of the “game changer” opportunities are only
available if the company is flexible enough to shift time and resources to those
opportunities.  There are many examples where smaller, more flexible
companies started redefining the markets they were in.  Not because they were
more creative, but because they were more open (both literally and
figuratively).

[Keep asking, “Are we thinking small enough… in terms of flexibility and speed?”,
“Are we thinking big enough… in terms of redefining or expanding our market
niche?”]

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