This is the latest article from my monthly e-newsletter, Great Results:

Is Your Strategy Lost In Translation?

Many managers believe that strategies fail in development, while others argue that they fail in implementation. They are both wrong. The most common cause of ineffective strategies is through the mismanagement of the gap between development and implementation, an area I call “strategy translation”.

Let me give you an example. Two years ago I helped a client identify their strategic priorities. Their most important internal issue was to improve the low productivity of certain sales teams, and we established a high-level strategy to resolve this issue.

A month ago I was back at the same client. Unfortunately, their biggest internal issue had not changed; it was still the productivity of their sales teams.

The reason that the issue had not been resolved was not because of a lack of implementation skills (they had several capable programme managers), or because the strategy was flawed in its development. The lack of progress was, instead, due to these three factors of translation:

  1. Critical differences in opinion, between the CEO and one of the executive directors, about the best way forward had not been resolved. The lack of alignment and shared commitment meant that the cross-functional programme team was unable to really get going.
  2. Explicit objectives had not been established. Although we had agreed a general direction for improvement, we had not set specific performance goals, or broken down our high-level aspirations into smaller objectives that the organisation could understand and deliver.
  3. Accountabilities for improvement had not been embedded into the performance management system. Personal performance contracts did not reflect the agreed strategy, partly because the objectives were insufficiently explicit.

These three steps are crucial in translating strategic concepts into a set of actions and operations that can be implemented. In US sports’ terms, they are the ‘hard yards’ of strategy, forcing alignment and commitment across the organisation, particularly its leaders.

If the executive directors had acknowledged their differences the programme team could have quickly tested two or three different solutions to determine the best way forward. But with no clear choices being made the issue continues to hold the business back.

The bottom line

As with my client, failure to take these crucial steps of strategy translation leaves organisations stuck in a strategic quagmire. It is not possible to go back, because the issue has been identified and is ‘out there’. But, until there is focus, alignment and specificity about future objectives it is equally difficult to move forward.


© Stuart Cross 2009. All rights reserved.