The Shifting Problem of Strategy Failing
We know that change initiatives fail about 70 percent of the time. We also know that a new strategy brings change, so strategy also fails more often than it succeeds. At worst, we get stuck and blocked and the company goes under. At best, we settle for satisfactory under-performance. So who’s to blame? Go back well over 100 years and we used to blame the workers. Frederick Winslow Taylor, the best known organizational consultant of his day, claimed that workers were lazy. Left to themselves, they would shirk and waste time (and so needed managers to force them to do a day’s work). So if things went wrong, it was down to the lazy workers. Fast forward to the 1980s and we were blaming middle managers. Roundly criticized and described as everything from ‘a concrete layer’ to ‘cooked geese’, they were blamed for stopping the strategy cascade from the top stone cold dead in its tracks. What was a hive of purposeful activity above them turned to a pathetic dribble of action due to their ineptitude. What about today? My research with global companies suggests that the strategy gets stuck much higher up. It gets stuck at the leadership level just below the CEO and his or her executive team. Why? Because this group of leaders doesn’t see itself as a collective force for good, charged with owning strategy execution on behalf of the entire firm. In fact, they meet so rarely that they don’t see themselves as a collective at all. They are content to meet their individual targets, but do so in isolation from their senior colleagues. Instead of leveraging the entire firm, they get in each other’s way. We need to think differently about how we engage and energize this critical level of leaders.