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Strategic planning: why do good strategies sometimes fail?

By Berit Sund and Heather Grant

Now more than ever we look to our leaders for guidance – arguably, we may have to look deep into the past for sound advice! Today, Winston Churchill’s counsel is as relevant as ever: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” – a clear nod to the value of strategic planning and execution. One definition of strategic planning is ‘the art of formulating strategies, implementing and evaluating impact, based on organizational objectives’.

It’s a misconception that only bad strategies fail – even the best strategy is worthless, if executed poorly, or not at all. One survey, by management consultants Marakon Associates, found that firms delivered only ~60% of their strategic plan’s promises.

So, what could go wrong? The Wharton Business School identifies three reasons why even good strategies fail: execution, execution, execution …

Importantly, what can we do about it? There are two schools of thought on improving execution: People vs Process. It’s hard to see how we can have one without the other, and in reality they’re more like two inextricably linked sides of the same coin.

Perhaps ironically, successful execution and strategic action originate at the start-line. The science of human behaviour also applies here: involve stakeholders, seek input and listen to internal as well as external experts.

Ultimately, we must create a catalyst for strategic action, galvanising a team through cross-functional engagement – so that they’re fully aligned to your strategic plan, and act accordingly. This people-centric process of co-creation promotes a sense of commitment and support that’s essential for effective execution.

Providing clarity on expected outcomes – defining your KPIs based on robust analytics – and translating this into clear actions and choices, provides a powerful impetus for independent initiative and innovation. Effective communication is a twoway street, and by listening to your stakeholders and refining a programme accordingly, this helps minimise any potential disconnect between strategy and delivery. A process of continuously tracking KPIs, will enable you to course-correct and reinforce your programme over time – ultimately creating a strategic shift towards goal.

A recent Harvard Business Review reminds us to be patient: 'Strategic execution is not a moment in time. It’s thousands of moments across time.' Success isn’t achieved with one giant leap towards goal, but many small steps towards the finish-line.

Berit Sund is Managing Director (EVP), Medical Education, dna Communications and Heather Grant is Managing Director, dna London

In association with

16th June 2020

From: Marketing

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