11 Signs Your Strategy Will Fail

I recently challenged an executive to ask her team if they could paraphrase her strategy accurately. The results were abysmal, getting about one and half of the priorities correct out of five. That’s a fail.

Companies rarely crash and burn over night. Instead, strategies get off track as cues are missed and the path is not adjusted to suit. Leaders begin following their own instincts about what seems right to them and what they think the boss wants. It doesn’t take long before tactics are operating at cross-purposes, gobbling resources to reach the wrong goals. That’s how we ended up with Coors Sparking Water and bacon-flavoured lip balm.

The power of strategy is in narrowing the focus to a handful of priorities that achieve a unified goal. Here’s how to tell if yours is heading for a fall.

  1. Gone Incognito: No one talks about the strategy or brings it up during decision-making. What are they using to determine resource allocation?
  2. Eyes Roll: When you ask “is this related to our strategic direction?”, non-verbal responses indicate people don’t care, it’s a waste of time, and an unneeded distraction.
  3. Memory Loss: When you want to discuss strategy, leaders ask for a ‘quick refresher’ on it.
  4. It’s Still Good (ISG) Syndrome: When you sense a need to update the strategy, no one wants to be bothered since the company is still succeeding. That’s how you end up telling the band Queen that Bohemian Rhapsody won’t be a hit because it’s longer than 3 minutes.
  5. Tactics Tactics Tactics: If you listen to the conversation from meeting to meeting, it’s all about the how and never about the what. Leaders have their head down in execution, responding to fires. That’s how you end up walking into a post.
  6. You can no longer envision a future where your strategy comes true: Do you remember the Columbia House offer where you could order 12 CDs for a penny? With local music stores disappearing as iTunes and Spotify grow, the Columbia House deal no longer makes sense. Neither do pagers.
  7. Performance is not improving: Missing your numbers could be due to tactics and execution, but at minimum it’s a good prompt to check the strategy. You need to know if customers have made a left turn. Proctor & Gamble saw revenues drop in several divisions when they took a break from market analysis and missed a trend.
  8. Micromanagement is increasing: Not only are they talking tactics, they are wayyyyyy down in the weeds helping to execute. Strategy is the furthest thing from their minds.
  9. You’ve Been Cloned: If your product or service is difficult to separate from your competitors, your strategy is a dud. That applies just as much to what you deliver as a leader as it does to the company as a whole.
  10. Deja Vu Strategy: If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that change is rampant. If you update the strategy and it’s essentially the same as the previous one, there’s a problem. There’s no way the same strategy will continue to succeed without change along the way.
  11. Leader Insulation: Getting out of touch with what’s happening in the world outside your company or industry is a sure way to get off track. It often happens when the company is riding on sustained success.

Changing Your Mind

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will always get there.”

Strategy is important. If any of the failure indicators ring true, it’s time for a revisit.

Once you’ve got it straight, keep in mind that your employees determine the importance of strategy by watching you. Consider:

  • The number of times you’ve reference strategy in goal-setting, performance reviews, and words of encouragement
  • How often you connect decisions to strategy
  • Recommendations you have refused due to strategic misalignment
  • Personnel decisions you’ve made based on the company’s direction

How are you keeping their eyes on the prize? My challenge to you: Plan on referencing the strategy in an explicit way at least 5 times this week during meetings or your one-on-ones. Consistency communicates criticality.

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper

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