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Designing and Executing a Strategy is Not Magic

By Dave Mather Created: November 22, 2012 Last Updated: November 22, 2012
Related articles: Business » Companies
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A service agency invested $150,000 on “management training” to change the behaviour of key executives from cavalier individualism and silos to collaboration and teamwork.

A well-known educational institution conducted the training. The trainers received high participant ratings.

A year later, the executive director admitted she could not trace any tangible outcomes back to the training and did not see a cultural or behavioural shift within the department. “But it was an excellent course,” she said.

Well-meaning, nice-to-do training or consultants offering advice with no commitment to concrete outcomes often waste time and resources.

A casino held a series of “conflict resolution” seminars. Six months later, participants said the steps taught did not produce the desired outcomes.

The trainer said she would “change and update” the process. The casino ran another series, insisting the training was “good,” apparently based on perception of the materials. Participants still reported inconsistent results.

A large agency’s internal audit revealed problems and deficiencies in the training and development function. The audit singled out a management course based on a popular theory of the day.

The auditors found no evidence the program had a positive impact on the agency’s performance. They estimated the real cost in time and materials at close to $2.4 million. But management declared that the program had been “effective.”

An international accounting firm decided it needed to be more sales-oriented. It rolled out a national initiative. Enthusiasm was high and executives deemed the rollout successful.

But a year later, they were still trying to get the bulk of managers and employees to buy in. Sales remained flat, and their market share decreased.

Concrete Outcomes

Every company has its own version of these scenarios—initiatives launched by dedicated people trying to adopt transition efforts that worked in other organizations. Some had initial support at all levels. What happened?

Organizations seem to move from one extreme to the other: Build up capacity, then downsize; centralize, then decentralize; acquire, then divest; hire, then downsize.

As one client said, “We talk constantly about our people issues and problems and grasp at various ‘solutions’ that rarely produce promised outcomes.

“Then we blame the training or consultant offering the advice, or pay lip service to confronting what’s really going on. I get so confused and frustrated that I don’t know what to do, but I know I have to do something now.”

Creating a strategy whose path serves individuals’ highest aspirations and deepest values as they create what is truly important to their organization seems like “magic” to those unaware of its simple power.

Well-meaning, nice-to-do training or consultants offering advice with no commitment to concrete outcomes often waste time and resources.

Traditional change efforts typically begin with management declaring that “this initiative is different” and employees responding with “this too will pass.”

Employees say, “Management just doesn’t get it.” Executives respond, “Employees resist change.”

Their strategies revolve around convincing each other, rather than collaborating to advance the organization.

Engage, Listen, Connect

After scrutinizing hundreds of strategic plans, we’ve discovered that most are articulated intentions rather than clear strategies. They lose momentum in the all-important execution stage.

Creating a strategy whose path serves individuals’ highest aspirations and deepest values as they create what is truly important to their organization seems like “magic” to those unaware of its simple power.

There is no magic. Playing the piano is not magic. Effective salesmanship is not magic. Designing and executing a strategy is not magic either.

Put your strategic plans on trial. Rather than “selling” each other, why not engage, listen, and connect with reality based on a composite view?

Ask yourself:

• Are our strategies so clear and logical that an outsider would support them without question?
• Do we often accuse others of not “getting it”?
• Do we shoot the messenger?
• Is there a lot of talk around strategy and little action?
• Do our actions actually move us forward?
• Do we sometimes charge forward, and then slide back?

All the above can be avoided and are symptoms of a weak strategy.

Dave Mather is a Performance Improvement Specialist at Dale Carnegie Business Group in Toronto. His columns can be read at ept.ms/dave-mather

Find Dave on LinkedIn.

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