The answer to the question depends on who is being asked. The results of a major study of 1000 companies, government agencies and not-for-profits in over 50 countries,  reported in Harvard Business, were rather shocking……well at least to some.  Employees at 60% of those companies rated their organizations as weak when it came to turning strategic intent into results. You are not alone!  When they were asked if they agreed with the following statement “Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action”, the majority said no.  You are not alone. 25% of those surveyed came from the executive ranks, traditionally the architects of the plans! Are you one of them?

The conclusion that must be drawn, for at least those companies surveyed, is that strategic and operational planning yields a low ROI. Arguably a waste of time and money.  The scope and breadth of the study would suggest that your company, no matter how big or small or the country/culture or the sector, is not maximizing the payback for the resources being expended on your planning processes……strategic, operational or project based.

The results are not likely surprising to most leaders.  Experience at even implementing small changes is often fraught with frustration and disappointing results.  How come?

Well the 2008 study goes on to identify what matters most when it comes to plan execution.  The results may surprise you. The first thing that managers often think to do when strategy fails is to re-organize. The results are often disappointing and in some situations worse. Introducing new technology and processes, initiating training and motivational programs or hiring ‘stars’ too often yield short term or little impact on the bottom line.

The research finds that what is often neglected is a very short list of the post powerful drivers of strategic execution.

Of the 17 traits that contribute to effective implementation, one was ranked, BY FAR as the most important. What is it?….. clarity on individual decisions and actions that contribute to the strategic success of the organization. More recent evidence corroborates the earlier report, some more shocking than the earlier study.  A major study reported in Steven Covey’s, ‘The Eighth Habit’, says that only 37% of employees have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why; and fewer (20%) really care. Only one in five can see a connection between their work and the strategic direction of the organization. No wonder so many see strategic planning retreats as a waste of time. Been there?

So what should you do to get better at plan execution?  Well the HBR article, June 2008, ‘The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution’, actually gives you 17 things that you can do and may already be doing.  But are you in good shape on the #1 trait? Do your people have crystal clear clarity on their actions and decisions that really matter?  Are their objectives and plans laser aligned with the strategic priorities?  Are they unstoppable when it comes to their commitment levels?

Keep tuned to this station for pragmatic and practical ideas on how to add a healthy dose of clarity to your planning……strategic, annual or for that critical project that you have been assigned.

Fred Pidsadny
Founder and President, FOCUS Management