A wealth of research has been done on why so many strategic initiatives end in failure. Most of this research points to lack of leadership buy-in, poor communication of vision, misaligned employee effort, etc. However, one thing is certain: If your strategy itself is wrong, it doesn’t matter how well you implement it. When you’re headed in the wrong direction, you’ll just get there faster.
For example, a FD/Forbes Insights study found that when strategies fail, most often it’s because companies misinterpret the market opportunity (23%) or don’t align their own core competencies appropriately (20%).
Though every project begins with the best of intentions and optimism, history shows us many examples of company flops and failures. Some companies are able to weather the storm and overcome their blunders (New Coke, anyone?) while other mistakes are catastrophic and ultimately lead to the demise of the company (Blockbuster, Blackberry, Webvan… I could go on).
To be fair, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to look back at those memorable blunders now with judgment. However, there are some key steps along the strategy development process that will set up the implementation phase for success.
Understand why customers choose you. Start with a clear understanding of how and why customers chose you. How are you differentiated in your market? First, don’t mess that up – continue to defend your competitive advantage. Second, what can you do to build this area further so that more customers choose you?
Know where you stand. How do you stack up against your strongest competition? Why do customers choose your competitors? A clear understanding of your competitive position in the marketplace serves as a catalyst for team ideation about how to improve.
Involve the right people. Open collaboration right from the get-go is critical. If you don’t involve all key stakeholders in the development of your growth strategy, you will have your work cut out for you when it comes time to implement. A cross-functional team results in richer perspective and therefore stronger strategy development. There’s nothing worse than going full steam ahead only to come to a screeching halt because a key leader wasn’t brought into the mix soon enough.
Let data drive strategy. Are you integrating timely data into your strategy or just acting on gut instinct? It’s easy to have knee-jerk reactions, but data-driven strategies are more likely to be successful. Data can validate or invalidate ideas early on, before the implementation phase even begins, greatly minimizing risk.
Don’t try to boil the ocean. Is your strategy specific enough? There are two levels of focus to consider. First, is it targeted at an actionable level? In other words, is it focused on impacting a certain segment of customers related to one of your offerings… or is it a global strategy that will hopefully have some kind of impact across the board (the “spray and pray�? method)?
Second, is the implementation plan specific? A great strategy is still ineffective if essential details aren’t hashed out. Plans must include action steps, milestones, key points of contact, and contingency considerations when something doesn’t pan out as you thought. As Mike Tyson stated so memorably: “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.�? The strategy has to have a strong enough vision to provide direction even when unexpected obstacles arise… which they will.
By taking the time to gather the right data and the right people in the development phase, you are much more likely to be successful in the implementation phase.