Engagingly colored spreadsheets, carefully worded documents, and extensive KPIs are bound together and cascaded down through the organization. The leadership team celebrates the successful Strategy release with a well-deserved glass of champagne, eagerly awaiting the first indicators that 2016’s Strategy is the one which will really separate the wheat (them) from the chaff (their competitors).
Six months later, the mood has changed. There are mutterings that KPIs are not being met. Perhaps we were too idealistic? the leaders growl, staring pensively into their Laphroaig. There are murmurs of another expensive restructure. Word is passed up: “the workers are working at 110%” the managers report. “We need more support”, say the workers. “We are dissatisfied”, say the customers. “Why wasn’t this done today? Can I do it on the internet?”.
The reason for failure:
Clearly tongues are firmly in cheeks with the above. But it does illustrate a crucial pain-point. Organizations talk a big game when it comes to strategy, yet research suggests 50-90% of strategic initiatives fail. Why? Dozens of research sources scream the same answer – the chasm between high-level strategic planning and its in-the-trenches execution must be bridged. Lack of communication, lack of collaboration – the invisible glue binding each organisation together – makes for a potentially very disappointing (to say the least) end to an organization’s strategy implementation.
What are the outcomes of failure to communicate effectively within an organization?
This has already been touched on above, but here are a few common weaknesses, depending on the type of strategic initiative being undertaken:
lack of agility in an organisation.
A great opportunity has opened up in the market! But in the time it took the changes necessary to take advantage of it to percolate through the creaking pathways of your legacy Knowledge Management System (which no one uses anyway), and get feedback from other stakeholders, a slicker competitor has edged your organisation out. Aesop was wrong about the winner in this context – with the caveat you don’t fall asleep along the way re: the hare because as we all know, you snooze you lose.
vague decision rights.
Perfect if your goal is to paralyze decision making. In this case we’re talking about failure to properly communicate decision authority. This slows everything down, causes delays for customers, and results in passing the buck without a clearly defined and communicated accountability structure. After all, execution is the result of thousands of decisions made by workers acting according to the information they have available. Make it available in a way that is simple, responsive, and in a form they will use.
lack of free information flow across organisational boundaries.
Yes, silos. Not only does informational silo-ing result in the forfeit of opportunities for economies of scale, it means best practices are not transferred – everyone misses out. Interestingly, a study by HBR found that only 21% of employees at organisations categorized as being weak-execution, and 55% (still low) from those categorized as strong-execution organisations considered their firm to have good information flow across organisational boundaries. Certainly food for thought in terms of the value of good communication channels and processes, and not only in regards to discrete projects.
Strategy execution success hinges on effective communication. By ensuring groups and individuals truly understand what decisions they are responsible for, are provided with the right information at the right time, and collaborate or at least share process and operational information across boundaries you can make your Big Strategy a Big Success.
So what happened to the leadership team in the story? Realizing their communicative faux pas, they set about finding the perfect solution to align their vision with its operational execution. A lightweight yet sophisticated process platform to replace the cumbersome program lingering in the depths of the organization’s servers (unused). Acting with agility as exceptional leaders do, analysts were delegated to test the solution free for 30 days. Finding their expectations exceeded, the solution was rolled out across all functional units. “We are delighted”, said the customers. “Great job”, said the shareholders as 2016 came to a close. “Bring on 2017”.