Strategic implementation - why do so many CEOs get it wrong?

When you plan to achieve a certain goal, there's a uniformity of thought that enables one to draw up a strategy to reach there. If this is being undertaken at an individual level, it's much simpler but when it comes to an organisation, there's more complexity.

By Apurva Purohit  
Thursday, August 23, 2018

Being the CEO is one of the most coveted roles in any organisation. While I've worked with a range of personalities who have assumed this title, I've enough insight to confidently say that 70-80% have a clear vision in place and get their strategy right. On the other hand, 70-80% get their implementation right too. They are after all, highly capable individuals who are known to make things happen. You'd assume all's well here then, as the numbers look strong; but that's where you'd be wrong.

If strategy and implementation were indeed two separate quadrants, each of the CEOs I'm referring to, would score very well. But the fact is these aren't two separate spheres, but a continuum that should flow seamlessly back and forth. And here my friends, is where the blind spot lies!

You see, when you set out to study a subject or you plan to achieve a certain goal, there's a uniformity of thought that enables one to draw up a strategy to reach there. Now if this is being undertaken at an individual level, it's much simpler as you are in sync with what you're chasing and that isn't just a by-product of your actions. However, when it comes to an organisation, there's more complexity; that warrants a more articulate methodology of implementation.

This often overlooked dynamic of the juxtaposition results in disillusionment across organisational bands. Simplistically put, a great strategy is developed for the annual off-site but then it's relegated to the bottom drawer of the boardroom cupboard for the rest of the year, while the leadership pretty much wings it or plays it by ear. And even if the initial enthusiasm carries through to implementation in Q1, it eventually gets booted out without hesitation, either at the first sign of competition doing something differently, or any minor market wave in an unforeseen direction.

So why does this faltering occur, when there's so much of an investment put into planning and strategising?

Here are a handful of reasons that rock the boat:

1. Lack of clarity when preparing a strategy - I've seen a ton of strategies wanting to do everything at one go; scale up, become profitable, address all segments, have the best distribution network and the highest market share - in all of 6 months. When asked about their first and primary goal, most leaders can't come up with a one phrase answer. While I understand that businesses are complex and it may not be possible to answer this question succinctly, I also believe that if you can't plainly plot your principal business objective each year - in one sentence, you're wading into troubled waters. If a part of your organisation is chasing growth, another chasing margins, and yet another is undecided about what they're supposed to do, you've a problem.

2. Ineffective communication - Lack of clarity of thought usually translates into a lack of clarity of communication. Even if a leader is clear about his goal in his mind, he often underestimates the importance of communicating the strategy not once, but several times over. This is a must, not only for the leadership team but to every executive; not only at the annual town hall, but at every single review meeting.

3. Dissect to unveil the building blocks - It's overwhelming even for the leadership to keep a tab on the strategy in its entirety. The first step is to break the strategy into bite size pieces. Get sales targets divided up into smaller sub-divisions; i.e. months, geographies, product, service line, client, etc. So instead of that big insurmountable wall there are smaller fragments that can be tackled easily. The trick to master this is to fragment as much as possible; then select 2 or 3 preferred segmentations basis that year's context. Also, contexts change every year - so this segmentation must follow suit! Repeating segmentation is an error many businesses make every year as they don't really rethink its business sense.

4. The input-output disconnect - Many CEOs believe that once they give the directive, all is well with the world and they can go and play a couple of rounds of golf while the troops convert intent into action. Here's the problem - you can't hang up your coat until you and your team figure out that it's not about the WHAT but the HOW that really matters. It is critical that the strategy is converted methodically to outline input and output goals for each team member. So, if I want $10 million of revenue, of which $3 million will come from yield improvement and $7 million from more units being sold and so on, each person is clear about what they bring to the table.

5. Incorrect measurement and inadequate monitoring - One of the most important metrics that determine success is measurement. Strategies fail because we measure the wrong output, or leave it fuzzy to capture any output. Another correlated issue is when CEOs set targets and give incorrect measures without too much detailing. Market share and growth can mean very different things and top line focus or margin focus can send organizations into varied orbits. Retention of customers may be important one year and in another you would rather get new clients and let the old ones go - because legacy client's pricing structure is unviable to for business!

Getting these five things right isn't rocket science, but it simplifies things quite a bit for business and for your employees. I believe that there is nothing in the world that is impossible when intent matches action - magic can be created!

Apurva Purohit is President of the Jagran Group.

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