Michael Porter describes a business strategy as something that:

1. Creates a unique and valuable position
2. Guides what not to do
3. Aligns activities across an organisation to support the strategy

Arguably, businesses have made significant progress in creating viable strategies, but this is in stark contrast to the execution phase. A Harvard Business Review study investigated why execution fails, and the findings might surprise you.

Given the improvements made around creating a valuable position and figuring out what not to do, it seems many of the issues arise because of poor alignment.

Businesses don't pivot when they should"The business unit responsible for predicting the weather, her app, hadn't told the business unit responsible for watering, herself, that rain was coming."

Reason For Failure #1: Getting stuff done is the same as alignment

Yesterday on my way home from the golf course, I stopped to speak to my partner who was working in her allotment. It was a perfect sunny evening, and she was watering her plants, which on the face of it made sense.

However, the weather forecast for the next 24 hours was unequivocal; it was going to pour with rain. I asked why she was watering her plants when rain was imminent, and she looked at me with a quizzical smile.

Her strategic objective of growing vegetables requires specific tasks to be executed; one of them is watering the plants. So watering the plants has to be a good thing, right? Well no, not if the rain will do the job for you, allowing you to do something else from the list of tasks, such as weeding.

In a roundabout way, the issue here was simple. The business unit responsible for predicting the weather, her app, hadn't told the business unit responsible for watering, herself, that rain was coming. In the absence of the right information, and because getting stuff done seems like the right thing to do, she got stuff done.

According to the HBR research, there's a significant issue with the way organisations communicate and collaborate across business units. In short, most managers don't rely on other business units supporting them effectively and as a result, in an exercise of self-preservation, muddle through without their help.

The upshot of this is people get stuff done, confuse that with delivering their end of the organisation's strategic objectives and hey presto, the plants get watered twice.
The remedy must be to encourage collaboration and to have in place a system for doing this that also aligns with strategic initiatives. For now, hold that thought.

Reason For Failure #2: Stick to the plan, no matter what

I used to go SCUBA diving and the mantra, plan the dive and dive the plan, was drilled into me. In a hostile environment where failure is likely to end badly, it makes sense to be rigid and only do what you set out to do.

Unfortunately, in business, things are not as clear cut and being agile usually makes more sense than being rigid, within reason.

Creating a strategic plan is often an expensive and sometimes painful experience. Indeed it can suck the life out of you. The idea of going through this process only to disregard the outcomes is anathema to most executives.

However, the evidence is clear, and just as Gantt charts often bang heads with reality, strategic plans often find themselves derailed by external factors that no amount of scenario planning could have anticipated.

Although it's true to say that being distracted by something shiny that's way outside your strategic objectives can be a bad thing, it's perhaps even worse to stick to initiatives simply because they're in your plan.

With easy access to a wide variety of data sources, it's never been easier to check internal initiatives against the reality of the market. Responding to this information is what differentiates good businesses with sound strategy execution from the rest.

Reason For Failure #3: Telling people means they understand

We've all been there; you're in a group of people, someone explains something, asks the group if they understood and everyone nods, hoping against all hope they don't get invited to prove they did. It's part of the human condition to want to fit in, not be the dummy, be one of the crowd.

However, based on the HBR research, it's highly likely that an organisation's strategic objectives are not well understood. Their study showed that only 55% of middle managers could name one of the company's top five priorities. This means organisations have to get real about how they communicate their strategy and objectives and make sure everyone understands them. Effectively communicating a strategy might mean, for example, adopting different styles and language for different audiences, but above all, it means making sure people fully understand what makes the company tick and what it's trying to achieve.

It also means there needs to be a clear differentiation between the strategic information given to people and the operational information. Getting this wrong confuses people and provides poor guidance. Indeed it might well cause them to sweat the small stuff and miss the big picture altogether.

Here at Alertise, we've been on a mission to fix the problems outlined in this article. We've created a system for easy cross-unit collaboration, we've made it easy for the c-suite and executives to reference valuable external data and we've created the tools for clear communication of an organisations strategic initiatives.

Of course, we haven't stopped there. From a single login, we provide hassle-free access to KPI's, projects, meetings and discussions at every level from the c-suite down. As one of our client's states, "Alertise has gone from a metric dashboard tool, to a strategy reporting tool, to now being the software we run the business with."

To see our software and release the full power of your businesses strategic initiatives simply request a demo below.

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