How To Make Sure Strategy Doesn’t Kill Your Business

By John R. Childress

Strategies are meant to carry companies onwards and upwards to lofty performance and competitive advantage. Sadly, in the majority of firms, big and small, strategies are rarely delivered and often die a silent death on a dusty shelf in the corner office, along with failed strategies from years gone by.

In a recent McKinsey & Co. study of 197 companies, despite 97 percent of directors believing they had the right “strategic vision,” only 33 percent reported achieving significant strategic success. Other studies confirm this wide gap between strategy and execution.

How is your company’s track record on execution? Are you long on plans and PowerPoint decks but short on results? What is the level of confidence among middle management and supervisors (where real work gets done) about being able to deliver on a major change program or aggressive set of business objectives?

So What Gets in the Way of Strategy Execution?

Recent studies have shown that besides the obvious, lack of funding and a bad strategy, there are several “invisible” yet powerful barriers to strategy execution. And most senior executives don’t know they exist.

  • Execution is usually an afterthought rather than an integral part of strategy formulation
  • Many initiatives are not directly linked to key strategic objectives. Too often we see pet projects wasting resources on disconnected initiatives.
  • Few employees have seen or understand the strategy. Without an understanding of the company strategy, employee engagement and new ideas are limited.
  • Corporate culture often acts as a barrier to the levels of teamwork. Openness and innovation are required for effective strategy delivery.
  • Disciplined governance of strategic initiatives is notoriously lacking, and day-to-day operations problems often hijack the attention of the senior team away from strategic issues.
  • Too often the strategy is developed by an outside consulting firm (after interviewing executives, of course), delivered to management in a dazzling presentation and a thick deck of slides, but with little real ownership by those left behind to implement it.
  • Poor alignment at the top and heavy silo focus leads to sub-optimization and resource conflicts, wasting valuable management time.

The Perfect Storm


These and other barriers often combine to create the perfect storm, where an otherwise good strategy winds up being abandoned as too difficult, or in many cases, business-as-usual objectives get substituted for strategic objectives. As a result the company makes incremental progress when it really requires breakthrough performance.

How to Improve Your Strategy Execution

1. Breaking Down the Silos

Because of the traditional silo-focused structure of most organizations, the CEO is about the only individual who has a horizontal, enterprise-wide perspective. The rest of the senior team focuses on maximizing functional operations and meeting budgets. What is required is a shift by the senior team to focus on strategy alignment and execution, and delegate operational issues to managers.

2. Time is the Enemy of a Competitive Strategy

This refocusing of the role of the senior team has two key advantages. First it puts those who have the most authority at the center of the strategy delivery process, so that when a problem is discovered, the focus of the entire senior team is on fixing the problem, rather than the current scenario of endless meetings called by the program office to coordinate between groups and recommend a solution, which then must go upstairs for approval, to result in another set of meetings. All wasting precious time.

3. Downsizing Your Senior Team

The second advantage in making the senior team accountable for the strategy instead of departmental objectives is that it naturally leads to a reduction in the size of the senior team, something all CEOs struggle with. In the normal silo-focused organization, everyone wants to be on the senior team so their department will be represented, especially at budget time. Everyone is looking out for their silo and not the overall business strategy.

By shrinking the senior team to a few key decision makers whose job it is to support the delivery of the strategy horizontally across all organizational boundaries, decision making becomes faster and the ability to reposition people and corporate assets to better suit the enterprise is far easier. This realignment of the senior team also helps grow the next layer of management, who now must step up to assume a bigger role in running the day-to-day business.

Remember, Strategy is an Ongoing Process

Strategy is not static; it is not something that first gets developed and then implemented, precisely as laid out in the binders. Strategy and execution are intertwined, and understanding how they work together is the key to a successful strategy execution.


Bio: John R. Childress is a senior executive advisor with more than 35 years experience working with senior executive teams and global organizations on the role of culture, performance, leadership and strategy execution.An effective public speaker, Childress is the author of FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution. His writings bring best practices into a synthesis of sage advice for the CEO and business leader committed to improving culture and performance.His new book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture will be released on 01 December 2013.