Five barriers to strategy execution / by Diederik Zunneberg

  1. Mistrust and low sharing of useful and timely information
  2. Low receptivity to effortful change
  3. More talk than action, then misaligned action
  4. Mechanistic action
  5. Complacency

 

Quy Huy, professor of strategic management at INSEAD, describes five emotion-based barriers for strategy execution within organisations. Each one presents a major danger to transformational efforts by preventing the necessary sense of urgency and commitment to a common task from taking hold throughout the organisation. Huy acknowledges that barriers can be different in various organisations. However, he tried to share the most frequent and important factors based on his research in the last 20 years. Various factors are assessed with a series of 360-degree measures as part of coaching. Huy is an advocate of dedicating more time to emotional aspects of the change process in addition to what leaders already try to do: making a solid left-brained case for their strategy. Huy: “To execute a strategy successfully, you need a good plan and an even better culture.” Culture eats strategy for Breakfast. As coined by Drucker. Huy believes the same can be said of strategy execution.

 

1. Mistrust and low sharing of useful and timely information

A “politics first” mentality that prizes appearance management above action. This causes a situation where no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Problems come to leaders’ attention when it is too late. Strategic alignment is hindered by information-hoarding among “players” who see their colleagues as competitors. # Problem with this barrier is that it can take years to change this kind of operating mode. In most cases refreshing leadership and off-boarding deviant players is inevitable.

 

2. Low receptivity to effortful change

Effortful change – even when it’s obviously beneficial e.g. staying on a diet – is easy to profess, difficult to do. Leaders must demonstrate their own willingness and ability to change before asking it of others. # Exemplary behaviour of leaders is necessary. Creating quick wins and communicating heavily about it, to show change is possible, with reasonable efforts and valuable benefits, is another angle (Kotter and others). Various measures to help the team should create a solid force to overcome this barrier: e.g. participation in problem recognition, strategy formulation, execution planning, positive / negative incentives, training and development, workload management et cetera.

 

3. More talk than action, then misaligned action

Huy emphasises that communication for intellectual understanding does not elicit emotional engagement to implement the new strategy. When leaders fail to inspire the collective toward a common goal, each team will tend to veer off in its own direction. It becomes impossible to integrate all the silos. # Integrating and aligning the actions of various silos is one of the main leadership challenges in large organisations. Inspiration can help silo leaders to support the common goal, but it is also necessary to analyse and address how the new collective goals relate to the specific interests, capabilities and culture of silo’s (e.g. divisions). The ‘talk’ shouldn’t be only inspirational and aspirational. There should be specific conversation about what the change really means for various parts of the organisation. This is more complex than straightforward cascading an overarching inspirational story told by the main leader. Inspiration should be made specific and an emotional appeal should be combined with a rational explanation of the need for change. Mobilising staff to act on a new strategy requires a broad leadership team to tell a consistent story about the diagnosis (what is the challenge), a guiding policy (how do we need to deal with the challenge, who plays what part), inspiration (why do we want to deal with the challenge, why are we able to deal with the challenge) and coherent action (what do we do to deal with the challenge, what do you do to help deal with the challenge, how do we align the efforts).

 

4. Mechanistic action

When under high time and performance pressure, employees become creatures of habit rather than taking risks to become innovative. # Huy argues that employees (and I assume leadership as well) when under pressure, are not able to be innovative. # Opportunities for business improvement may not be seized, such as increase of revenue, lowering cost, discovery of new products and markets. Creativity and innovation can suffer when people perform under high time and performance pressure. That is regrettable. Sticking to routines under high pressure situation can also be necessary. In crisis situations it is eminent that team players can rely on their counter parts to play their parts according to the routines that were discussed and rehearsed. Improvisation might otherwise lead to confusion, incoherent action and failure to respond to the situation adequately as team. This leaves us with the question, how to organise a process where team members act coherent upon a sense of urgency without being blocked or confused by time and performance pressure.

 

5. Complacency

Confronted with the potential effort and risk of strategic change, the organisation as a whole believes the status quo is good enough, so why do the hard work to change it? # Change requires a team leaders that are able to motivate and mobilise their team members. A solid change case (not always a burning platform), participation in problem recognition and planning, effective leadership and various incentives and support measures, can help to deal with complacency, but in large organisations that are not in a crisis, this can be hard to deal with.

 

Source: Five Reasons Most Companies Fail at Strategy Execution, Quy Huy, INSEAD, January 2016