What do you make of an organization that has employed four different consulting companies to transform itself into a customer-loving organization in less than three years? (This is a real story.) The first consulting company took the process mapping-approach and provided a detailed customer pain points map. Their work ended there. The second company focused on quick-wins but experienced minimal success in execution. The third, a big name in the branding agency, concentrated on best practices from other industries. That didn’t go anywhere. And the last consulting company conducted a motivational workshop attended by all managers, all of whom left the session with a new book in hand and returned to their everyday job.
You may say that this is an organization that suffers from commitment issues. Each approach had merit to ignite a customer-centric transformation, however, the company simply did not want to commit, regardless of the argument or method. But that’s the simple answer. A deeper look at the situation would uncover a more acute issue. The organization suffers from “launch and abandon” syndrome, where there is a fundamental lack of understanding as to how to successfully deploy a strategy. The majority of the effort was focused on the planning and kick-off celebration, with little attention given to its disciplined execution over a long period of time.
“It takes time to develop a strategy, but it takes even longer to execute and see it come to fruition.”
There are several root causes of the “launch and abandon” syndrome.
- A lack of experience – Companies with no experience in executing long-term strategies simply don’t know how to do it. It’s hard to blame them for it. The solution: seek professional help.
- A lack of conviction – While the strategy may have been decided, there are still many internal stakeholders who disagree with the strategy itself or the way it is being brought to life. As such, they do not fully participate or invest in the execution process and let it falter. The solution: obtain alignment not only at the time the decision is made, but also throughout execution.
- A lack of realistic timeframe – It takes time to develop a strategy, but it takes even longer to execute and see it come to fruition. Most executives are impatient or unrealistic about the timeframe, or do not incorporate sufficient time into the execution plan. They opt for quick wins and short-term success while sacrificing the long-term viability of the strategy. The solution: do not declare victory too early, as it will signal an end to what ought to continue to be executed.
- An executives-to-employees gap – I recently heard an analogy comparing a company’s org chart to a tree of monkeys. The CEO sits on the top branch, his direct reports sit under him and the rest reside on the lower branches. Looking down, the CEO only sees smiling faces. The employees looking up are have a completely different point of view. Much has been said about the rose-colored glasses executives see through and the biased perspective they have of their organization’s success. It is applied here as well. The solution: get out there and talk to those at eye level. Better yet, walk in their shoes and see how the strategy feels in real life, not through wood-paneled conference rooms.
It is time to go back to basics. You did not create a strategy so that it could be an option. You developed it to succeed. If this is the case, we need to let go of the commitment issues and assume full responsibility of strategy execution. It’s time to bring back the “failure is not an option” mentality and ensure everyone in the company shares that sentiment and, as a result, the commitment to strategy execution.