Strategy Execution Needs Leaders Who Drive the Right Conversation and Shape the Right Narrative
A lot has been written on the difficulty or limited success of business strategies being effectively implemented. Research indicates only 30 to 40% of strategies are successfully executed. In fact the success of business leaders is not based on how good their strategies are, but rather on how well they have been executed.
People Deliver Strategies because they Change their Behaviour
Strategies do not execute themselves, people execute strategies. All organisational strategies have one simple thing in common, they are attempts to modify the behaviour of people in the organisation so that they deliver a different value proposition. These could be an experience or set of services for a customer, or attempts to drive greater efficiency and productivity, because people change how they work, or develop new capabilities to be able to deliver new services, products into new markets.
Strategies Need to be Led at All Levels
If the right change in behaviour is the net result of effective strategy execution, then by default this change requires leadership. Leadership that inspires change, removes barriers, challenges the existing culture, holds people accountable for the shift and most importantly “goes first” by modelling the desired change in behaviour. How often have we heard business leaders speak of driving a customer-centered culture and strategy, but who then spend most of their time in internal meetings?
Change Happens One Conversation at a Time
Fundamentally, leaders are responsible for having the right conversations consistently at all levels in the organisation in order to facilitate the implementation of the strategy. Conversations that articulate what the future aspirational state of how the business and people will operate and behave, and explain why this is important, the right thing to do and a priority now. Finally, conversations that translate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ into how people should be doing things differently today and going forward.
It is all About Creating the Right Strategic Narrative
Changing behaviour through dialogue in order to shape a new reality is both the art and science of crafting and communicating the strategy at all levels, consistently and effectively. It is our ability to communicate through language that has enabled human beings to organise and achieve great things collectively. Strategic narrative enables leaders to describe and shape the thinking, and through this the perceptions and mindset, of people so that they focus their attention on different/new things. Most importantly, it should enable them to begin to understand their world differently, and to recognise how things should be done going forward. The narrative creates the focus on what is important, what behaviour and results are valuable and by default, what should not be focused on, and what is no longer acceptable.
The Narrative needs to be Communicated – and Sustained – Through Multiple Channels
The challenge has always been that people in organisations are engaged with multiple narratives simultaneously, competing for their attention. Often more worrying is that these are contradictory. If the narrative is to create change one has to recognise that it needs to be repeated until one achieves the change. . Depending on the size of the organisation this can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Also critical for success is that the “communication” should be a two-way process across multiple channels. Never before have there been so many channels available, which on one level is great, and on another means so many more platforms to compete on in order to deliver your chosen narrative. . We have seen how social media for example, can completely undermine a dominant narrative distributed via more formal media channels.
Just like Strategy a Narrative is Constantly Evolving
Just as strategies need to be fluid and adaptive in the New World where agility is critical, so too do narratives. Without this people can become disengaged and miss the “new emerging reality” you are trying so hard to create. The narrative needs to be alive and consistently improved so that it remains relevant and addresses people real time. Once-off annual strategic planning sessions are old fashioned, even if you revisit these quarterly. For effect strategic implementation consistently working on the narrative becomes a key task of all leaders at all levels within the organisation.
If the strategy is not being executed in your organisation, then ask these three questions;
• Who is leading the conversation?
• Where is the conversation getting stuck?
• Why is the narrative not connecting with people and shaping their behaviour?