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Why we never have time to implement strategy

You go away with your senior management team, spend two days with an external facilitator and come back with what you think is a great strategy.

The only problem is that when you get back you are buried in operational issues, staff issues, customer issues and supplier issues, so the strategy is put on the back-burner until you have more time.

Guess what, your annual strategy retreat comes around again and you still haven’t implemented last year’s strategy. Sound familiar?

There are three possible reasons for this sort of situation:

1.     Many strategic plans are swamped with situation analysis and end with long lists of what are really tactical and operational “to do” lists, and no real strategy.

2.     Many of the executive team attending the retreat came away not believing the strategic plan, but were not willing to say so. It was all just wish lists.

3.     The people responsible for implementing the plan were not part of its formulation, have no idea of why it was created, what it means and how to implement it.

People are happy to spit out all the reasons for the current planning issues, doing endless SWOTs, “forces driving change” analyses, financial analyses and more, then building list of things to do. The problem is that the list represents just more things to do when everyone feels they are already over-worked.

The retreat may have produced unrealistic initiatives and goals that not all attendees really agree with or consider realistic. The euphoria of the retreat wears off reality hit. As the saying goes, “no plan survives its clash with reality”.

Let me deal with each of these situations.

A full strategic review of the organisation, its markets, customers, competitors and environment is an essential prerequisite to successful strategic planning. This, however, is the part that is often overlooked or not done as thoroughly as it should be.

What you often see instead is a leap from the review (SWOTs etc.) into goals, objectives and actions without an actual strategy being developed.

Strategy as I define it is the way an organisation endeavours to differentiate itself positively from its competitors, using its relative strengths to better satisfy customer needs. It’s all about what you are going to do to make yourself different and better. Unfortunately, this is often hard to determine, so most just pass over this basic strategic requirement.

For some reason people often think that some bold sales target in three or five years is their strategy. The planning retreat gets everyone whipped into a frenzy around achieving this, but most are just paying lip service to the idea. Without an actual strategy they have no faith in the bold sales target.

I am often asked who should be involved in developing the strategy. Some leaders think it should be done is secret in case staff leave. How about that for a reason the strategy never happens.

I believe everyone in the organisation should be involved in the strategy discussions. Strategy usually involves change (or at least it should in a dynamic market), and if you have ever tried to bring about some change without the people concerned being involved from the start, you will know what I mean.

Throughout the year your staff will hear strategically significant information but unless they have been involved in strategy discussion and development, they won’t recognise the information as important.

If your strategic review indicates change is needed (and it always will if you are being realistic), then it’s not something that you have to find time to implement. You need to do it now and move your organisation to change what and how it does things.

I can never understand people saying they haven’t had time to implement their strategy. The mind boggles.

Finally and most importantly, strategy should not be a once a year event.  In today’s fast moving world your strategy needs regular review and consideration. Much can change in a year and you need to be in front of it, not playing catch up.

Our prime focus in TEC groups is to help our members develop and constantly monitor their strategy so they are always out in front of their competitors.

What do you think?

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Harvey Martin

Harvey Martin

Harvey Martin is Regional Chair of Victoria for The Executive Connection (TEC), a peer-to-peer mentoring organisation that aims to create better management and leadership practices amongst its members. Harvey has held a number of CEO roles throughout his career, and consults in marketing and strategic management for a wide range of organisations including the agricultural, manufacturing, IT and service industries. Harvey can be contacted via email: Harvey@tec.com.au

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