In most companies we find a top down approach to strategy. It is usually the top-management that defines the vision, the mission and the strategy. They usually do a fantastic job setting the framework and communicating the plan. So how come organisations fail in the implementation stage?
Strategy is “just” a plan
When top-management thinks that the strategy work is done, “real” work begins. Strategy is just a structure – It is a plan that will (if implemented) get the company from the current stage to a more attractive stage in the future. It contains focus areas, strategic initiatives and KPI’s to measure progress. So why is it so difficult?
Culture runs the company
Implementing the strategy – what we call the “real” work, is what people in the company actually do on a daily basis to move in the defined direction. If people don’t understand the strategy, they have no clue in which direction to move. What is even more critical is not that they don’t understand the strategy, but if the culture doesn’t support the adjustment of the strategy, it will certainly fail.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – by Peter Drucker
Following the theory of Edgar Schein, culture is a series of assumptions a person makes. The assumptions are becoming more and more difficult to change the deeper we dive into human psychology. It is about our values, beliefs and habits.
Competencies are the foundation
When a company changes or adjusts the strategy, it is essential to link strategy and culture. When we know that culture is about values, beliefs and habits (stated in a simple way), and that these are difficult to change, we must look at each function and the attached competences. Do we believe that the person currently in the function can lead people in the new direction? This is often the job that should be carried out by middle managers – to ensure a link between the strategy and the competencies. But what if they fail?
Long-term perspective versus daily operations
Middle managers have a challenging role – no doubt about that. They have to shift their mindset between the long-term perspective supporting the strategy and the daily operations. Most of the time, daily operations win. It is a lot easier to discuss and solve issues in the near future – especially in a work environment where there is little or no time to reflect but the calendars are stuffed with back to back meetings.
Develop a strategic leadership
Asking me, all leaders should have a course in strategy so they can understand why strategy is important and how to translate it. If they do not see the benefit and purpose of strategy, they will surely fail to implement it in their division. Despite them being good leaders, they will probably make decisions that don’t support the strategy. Most middle managers have no or little clue about strategy. It isn’t something that is taught a lot.
Leading is about creating the right results – matching strategy and culture
Employees are critical for success
Having any doubt about middle managers understanding and implementing the strategy you should educate the whole organisation. This might have a cost – but what is the cost if the strategy fails? In the end, it could mean that the company misses new business opportunities because people don’t react to it or see strategy as something distant and irrelevant for their daily work.
Strategy is simple – it is about scanning around the corner – anticipating what is ahead in the future and creating a plan to get there. Everyone has a very important role to play in the game of strategy. So please, educate people. It will enhance the company’s potential.