Every leader has a strategy, so why aren’t more of them implemented?


Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately
degenerate into hard work.

–Peter Drucker


Chess PiecesIt’s obvious that the value of strategy isn’t found in it’s simple existence. Plans are well and good, but results are achieved through execution. Implementation is necessary for any change to take place. It’s infinitely better than planning, or as we southerners are fond of saying, “fixin’ to do something.”  It’s easy to understand that in a competitive marketplace, the winners are usually the organizations that best execute their strategy. A less obvious corollary is that an average plan fully executed is better than the perfect plan that isn’t executed at all.

In the current business environment, organizations and leaders face a continual need to adapt.  Nothing stays the same for long. Both customer expectations and market conditions are seemingly in a state of constant fluctuation. Continual adaptation requires something more than understanding at the management level and “tweaking the plan.” Employees must adapt as well, and this means that execution of any new strategy also requires new employee behavior. There’s the rub – employees are frequently reluctant to change their daily routines.

Why Employees are Reluctant to Change

The old ways are always comfortable. Changing behavior is awkward and employees may lose the confidence that they had in “tried and true” methods.  It’s natural to be risk averse, and there are risks of failure associated with change; but it’s important for employees to accept accountability for implementation of new methods and processes if new strategies are to succeed.

Employees’ aversion to change can put leaders in a very uncomfortable position.  If they lower their expectations, there’s a tendency to micromanage and continually check up on the status of projects. Worse yet, they may actually accept less than satisfactory performance.  Another poor response is negative feedback, continual criticism and reprimands that can lead to a death spiral. Deadlines are missed and employees fail to produce. The predictable excuse is a misunderstanding of priorities or of the responsibility that was expected of them.

4 Successful Leadership Approaches

Positive leadership approaches are needed for adaptive change to occur within any organization.  Here are four successful approaches that can help to increase accountability and make sure that the best plans are also executed well:

  1. Communicate Clearly and Transparently – At the core, this means explaining the big picture.  What are the business conditions that necessitate the need for change? Describe the marketplace, including economic, competitive, and technological realities.  Once the significance of the situation is clear, define the desired outcomes with clear accountability and timelines.  Discuss the resources available to help facilitate the process. Finally, describe the business performance metrics that will be used to measure progress along the way.
  2. Convey Understanding along with Expectations – The dialogue should be personal, genuine and sincere.  It’s a good idea to acknowledge that employees may have feelings of discomfort with change.  Encourage questions and feedback to make sure that employees’ grasp of the need for change is complete and convey your personal trust that the team members will accept change and achieve the desired results.
  3. Over-Communicate – A single briefing probably isn’t going to be enough for employees to “buy-in” to the new strategy and follow through with actual change.  Use a variety of methods and channels to “over-communicate” the desired vision.  Communicate the message again, even when you feel that everyone is aware of the program.  It’s only when employees conclude that the new strategy is a meaningful change that will stick (and not just a policy initiative) that they’ll alter their actions.
  4. Celebrate the Milestones – Mark the achievements as progress is made. Use monetary and non-monetary means to recognize behaviors and outcomes that you want the team to repeat. Along the way, provide ample feedback, coaching and training. Compliment and reward the new skills that are acquired and let individual employees know that their efforts are valuable and  appreciated.

There’s no guarantee that every new strategy will succeed. Even plans that are well-conceived and well-implemented may fail, but far more strategies fail from lack of execution than from lack of planning. The good intentions of the best leaders fall apart without commitment and  hard work from the rest of the organization.


Pete ToshPete Tosh is co-founder and President of The Focus Group, a management consulting firm specializing in maximizing the achievement of corporate strategies via employee behavior. Pete can be reached by phone at 478-746-6891 or by email at pete.tosh@thefocusgroup.biz.

Chess Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons