Success rates in strategy execution are depressingly low. Research suggests that approximately 50% of strategies fail to meet their goals, though other studies have found that less than 10% of strategies are ‘fully’ delivered.

So, how do you set up your most important initiatives to succeed? I have worked with dozens of organisations of all shapes and sizes and have found these six factors – a mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ features – maximise your chances of delivery excellence.

  1. Establish a clear, specific goal. The best initiatives are focused on delivering tangible improvements to your most important issues. Clarifying your initiative’s #1 performance goal creates focus and meaning for the project team, but it also lays the foundation of accountability. The goal should be quantitative, not qualitative, and should be tracked with discipline. Fluffy goals lead to
  2. Develop a set of supporting lead indicators. While achieving the #1 goal is the initiative’s main aim, lead indicators act as early signs of warning or success. At one supply chain improvement project I supported, for example, the #1 goal was customer satisfaction with stock availability, while the lead indicators included improvements to stock cover, on-time in-full delivery performance and response times. Closely monitoring performance against these measures helped the management team to understand the key drivers of satisfaction and accelerated the delivery of the goal.
  3. Commit to a number of meaningful milestones. Improvements require change. Articulating these changes and committing to specific times for their delivery further embeds accountability. They act as promises made to the wider organisation and create zest and energy across the project team, building momentum and confidence.
  4. Build team ownership. Strategy execution does not happen by top-down direction alone.Projects only succeed if the team delivering them fully own the objectives, timescales and scope. You must therefore spend sufficient time and energy up-front, working with the team to build the ambition and plan and ensuring that they are relishing the challenge.
  5. Ensure systematic follow-up and accountability. All projects require regular, consistent follow-up on progress. The team should honestly review its own performance against its goals, KPIs and milestones, but there should also be higher level reviews to maintain accountability. Any critical issues that arise should be turned into specific actions.
  6. Remain open to learning at all times. No project ever goes according to plan. Issues and problems will inevitably arise and changes will be required. The important thing is not to shy away from these problems, or to try and hide setbacks. Instead, the focus needs to be on understanding what’s really happening and creating a culture of trust and openness so that issues can be discussed openly and resolved rapidly. Equally importantly, an open environment for learning also allows you to roll out successes at pace.

How do your projects compare to these rules? And which could you adopt and focus on to improve your chances of turning your strategic ambitions into reality.

© Stuart Cross 2021. All rights reserved.