Six Reasons Your Strategy Is Not Working

Synopsis of an article in HBR by Michael Beer, Published 22nd June 2020

Michael explains that most organisations today are dealing with massive strategic challenges that require a redefinition of purpose, identity, strategy, business model and even structure. Many if not most of these will fail and not because the strategy if flawed but rather the organisation does not have the ability to execute.

He explains that he has seen six common interrelated reason for failures, referred to as ‘hidden barriers’ which make organisations ineffective.

Hidden barrier #1: Unclear values and conflicting priorities

Often, the underlying problem is not this or that strategy, but rather the process by which the strategy was formed — or the lack of any such process. In these cases, strategy is often developed by the leader along with the chief strategy or marketing executive and only then communicated to the rest of the senior team for discussion. If the whole team is not involved clarity and commitment are not possible.

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs:
– lack of clear strategy and values that guide organisational behaviour
– conflicting priorities, leading to conflict over resources and ultimately poor execution of strategy.
– teams feeling stretched and overloaded, with everything a priority.

Hidden barrier #2: An ineffective senior team 

Failure of senior leadership team to be aligned on the messages around strategy and value leads to a lack of trust in senior leaders and low commitment to strategic decisions.

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs among the senior team:

– A lot of time in meetings is update and information sharing about short-term operational issues rather than dealing with the difficult strategic and organizational issues.
– Where meetings have little debate and constructive conflict and all real decisions ‘get made outside the room’
– When the members of the Senior Leadership Team are not aligned in how they speak about strategy and priorities.

Hidden barrier #3: Ineffective leadership styles

Individual leadership can have two potentially ineffective styles: firstly top-down hierarchical approach that does not involve team members sufficiently and the laissez-faire, non-confrontational style.

Whether it is the leader’s aversion to conflict or their lack of a clearly defined process for constructive debate (as well as carrying through to decision.

In this situation, the leader doesn’t learn what the senior team or lower levels actually believe about what’s not working and why.

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs:
– Leader focuses on operational details ‘works one level below their pay grade’
– Leader is not visible, spending little time communicating the overall strategy and direction, or coordinating constructive debate to explore and understand any contesting views.
– Leader fails to confront issues head on leaving potentially festering conflicts.

Hidden barrier #4: Poor coordination

Poor coordination across the business especially where business silo’s protect fiefdoms and are unable to agree on culture and structure are obstacles to culture and collaboration. Where friction exists on the boundaries the ability to establish integrated value creating activities is very hard and often flawed. “The lack of honest, collective, and public conversation prevents the organization from recognizing and correcting those flaws.”

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs:
– executing on cross-functional business or geographies is painful often despite good relationships.
– priorities for meeting individual business unit goals over those of achieving broader cross boundary teams goals.
– where there is a lack of clarity on the accountability for roles, responsibilities, regions and decision rights.

Hidden barrier #5: Inadequate leadership development

The best leaders are not trained, rather they are grown through an opportunity to develop while carrying out challenging assignments. This requires managers to volunteer their best team members to take on these development opportunities for the ‘greater good of the organisation’. This process of helping high potential leaders flourish in other parts of the organisation requires leaders to have more benevolent motivations.

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs:
– it is always the same candidates put forward for important initiatives
– few opportunities are provided for management development and leadership
– senior team doesn’t regularly review talent and the associated career paths for development of general managers.

Hidden barrier #6: Inadequate vertical communication

A lack of clarity and consistecy in the key messages coming from the top of the organisation causes confusion and a lack of team alignment.

Your organization is suffering from this barrier if you notice any of these signs:

– few opportunities for open, low risk, two way communication between layers of management
– when there is a culture of not discussing difficult issues in larger groups
– where senior leaders fail to seek out and learn from leaders at all levels of the organisation, especially where opportunities might exist to improve company effectiveness.

Michael suggests that you start with an assessment of the team. If you recognized your organization in the six hidden barriers, your organization is probably having a hard time transforming itself in some important way.

“If most of the items in any given hidden barrier category are true, that particular barrier is playing a strong role in undermining the effectiveness and agility of your organisation.

Michael Beer is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, a cofounder of TruePoint Partners, and author or coauthor of 12 books. His most recent book is Fit to Compete: Why Honest Conversations About Your Company’s Capabilities Are the Key to a Winning Strategy (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020).

Read the full article here it is excellent:

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