In many, if not most companies, strategy execution is accompanied by employees’ ducking and holding their breath as the wave rolls by in hopes that if they wait long enough things won’t change. Many strategic initiatives fail, but employee resistance is normal to any change, and is not the underlying reason for the failure of strategic initiatives.
The failure of strategic initiatives is often due to several fundamental reasons: little or no connection between strategy and the real world, strategy that does not relate to the work that employees do, or an implementation plan that underestimates the challenges of strategic implementation. All three are good candidates for the “Strategy Killer” award.
The executive of a company is responsible for elaborating strategy, but must not do so in a vacuum. There are many employees throughout the company that possess a great deal of knowledge about markets and clients. Many employees duck beneath the waves because they can see when a strategy is ill-conceived; however, if the employee tries to communicate that to the executive they risk incurring the “kill the messenger” syndrome.
In today’s connected world, there are many tools available to do research. There are databases big and small providing a myriad of information (Hint: the most expensive ones are not always the best!). It may be necessary to sift through to find the right information. In addition, there are many low-priced tools such as Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp (why so many simian sites?) to help smaller companies take surveys and find the pulse of the market.
Even for the strategy that is well conceived, many companies underestimate the resistance to change they will find among their employees. It is a natural phenomenon to resist change. I moved 6 months ago, yet my car still wants to take me to the old place. Habits die hard.
There are two keys to overcoming resistance: first there must be enough people well-placed throughout the organization who understand and ‘buy-into” the strategy. They do not all have to be management; many thought leaders and people of influence are not managers. Ideally, these influencers have been involved in the creation of the strategy and have some skin in the game so that they want to see the strategy succeed.
Secondly, the strategy must be articulated in such a way that employees at all levels can see what they must do for success. Let’s take an example from Starbucks. A key component of strategy might be to have baristas have an excellent knowledge of their drinks and be able to discuss the drinks with customers and make suggestions.
To the barista that may mean learning how to make drinks really well so that they can talk to the customer and make the drink at the same time. To the training department, the key component may mean devising effective and efficient training programs. To the HR department, it may mean hiring people that are able to multi-task; both talk to the customer and get the drink right at the same time.
By asking three basic questions, you can begin to judge how well your strategy execution may go: Was proper research done to ground the strategy in reality? Were employees from crucial places within the business involved in strategy development? Can every employee see what they must do in order for the strategy to succeed?