Author: Ricardo Viana Vargas, Executive Director, Brightline Initiative
2 Jan 2018
Every business needs an effective strategy, but organisations must not make the mistake of thinking this is all it takes to be successful. In fact, the challenge of turning strategic design into concrete action often represents one of the biggest inefficiencies holding businesses back.
According to a survey carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), only one in 10 organisations can deliver on all of their strategic goals. This struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and practical day-to-day implementation is not just a headache for individual businesses – it is a problem for the entire global economy.
According to research conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI), $97m (€83.3m) of every $1bn (€858.8m) invested is wasted as a result of poor implementation. Averaged across the entirety of the global capital investment market, this equates to $2trn (€1.72trn) of waste every year.
This is a massive waste of resources for governments, private enterprise and the not-for-profit sector. If this waste can be reduced, even by a fraction, it could have an enormously positive impact the world over. European CEO spoke to Ricardo Viana Vargas, Executive Director at Brightline Initiative, to learn how businesses can not only design an effective strategy, but also ensure it is successfully implemented.
In what ways are leadership and accountability important for effective strategy implementation?
Brightline has 10 guiding principles to help shrink the wasteful gap between strategy and delivery, the second of which has a clear focus on leadership. Namely, it urges businesses to accept they are accountable for delivering the strategy they have designed. We tend to believe that the biggest challenges to strategic implementation are related to technology or regulatory policies. However, the biggest challenge is human behaviour, which is driven by self-interest, motivation and attitude.
It is easy to create a particular plan on paper, but the person who is envisioning the future should also be accountable for helping teams deliver it. This is also in line with Brightline’s sixth principle, which aims to promote team engagement and effective cross-business cooperation.
The struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and practical implementation is not just a headache for individual businesses – it’s a problem for the entire global economy
We believe that leaders need to gain genuine buy-in from all levels of the organisation. Don’t just assume your people will ‘get it’ – as a leader, you must firmly establish a shared commitment to strategy-delivery priorities, and regularly reinforce it.
What are the most important factors for businesses to consider when planning and making decisions?
Decision-making is a tough activity. Whether you have all the information you need or not, it is very hard to predict the future and know what is going to happen when you make a decision. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment, so it’s important to accept we will never have the perfect conditions for making a decision.
Instead, leaders need to be ready to make a decision and take a direction as soon as they have enough information – not all the information, but enough to move forward. Once they have done that, they need to own the decisions they make by removing roadblocks, addressing risks, and reinforcing accountability and ownership. If the path they choose to follow proves incorrect, it’s important to recognise these failures as quickly as possible.
How important is it to have the right culture in place when delivering strategic programmes?
According to the EIU survey, cultural attitudes are the number one barrier to successful strategy implementation. Having said this, culture can be complex to understand and difficult to change.
One way of understanding a company’s culture is to look at how it views failure and celebrates success. Organisations need to empower programme delivery teams in such a way that makes them feel able to experiment and learn quickly. But for this to happen, they also need an environment where challenges are discussed openly and the value of failing is appreciated.
Organisations must also remember to always celebrate successes and quick wins, and actively shape a winning culture by engaging and exciting the people responsible for delivering strategic programmes. Sometimes it takes years to deliver a great strategy, so don’t forget to celebrate small steps along the way.
How can middle and line managers establish themselves as champions of strategy?
Our research shows that those involved in the strategy and development of leading organisations actively collaborate with those responsible for implementation. The C-suite and senior executives are the ones responsible for ensuring middle and line managers clearly understand the company strategy, its goals and the challenges that need to be overcome to deliver the expected results.
It is essential organisations avoid the ‘frozen middle’. This occurs when there is no buy-in or alignment with line and functional managers concerning strategic issues. To avoid this, businesses must consider strategy delivery and design as an interconnected continuum of activities, not distinct areas of disparate importance. Multi-level communication, therefore, is vital.
By removing the fear of failure, you can encourage staff to share problems and work as a team to overcome them
In fact, all of a company’s employees have a role to play in strategic deployment. By removing the fear of failure, you can encourage staff to share problems and work as a team to overcome them. This will create a more appropriate environment for teams to work collaboratively towards a common strategic goal. By actively involving all members of staff and communicating effectively, they will all be more likely to champion strategic initiatives.
How should businesses ensure the correct resources are being assigned to each project?
According to the EIU survey, the second most cited barrier to successful strategy implementation is ‘insufficient or poorly managed resources’. To overcome this, leaders must be able to inspire and assign the right people to deliver each strategic programme.
In addition, businesses need to prioritise the most important initiatives to achieve their goals. Organisations should promote focus, clear direction and responsiveness by combining dynamic and flexible delivery capability with long-term vision. Leading businesses also avoid short-term distractions caused by momentary shifts in their environment.
Businesses should identify what their current competencies are, as well as any outstanding weaknesses. Then, they must close the gap between what they have and what they need in order to deliver their strategy. It is worth noting, for example, that money is a key resource. However, money itself does not build a house. You need the right people with the right competencies, the right material and the right equipment to build a house – not just piles of money.
What plans do you have for the future?
We have very ambitious plans to develop relationships with leading global organisations and institutions. This year, we will be hosting a breakfast event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, as well as partnering with Web Summit, Rise in Hong Kong and Collision, which has been dubbed America’s fastest-growing tech conference. We also have strategic partnerships with TED and Thinkers50, and we are partnering with the Drucker Society in Europe.
It is important to remember that Brightline is a non-commercial coalition of global organisations, and our mission is to help leaders close the gap between strategy design and delivery, while helping them to actively discuss these topics in their day-to-day business agendas.
For us, success means seeing organisations and governments reduce or eliminate the amount of wasted resources that result from poor strategic implementation. This enormous waste is just unacceptable, especially given the economic and social challenges we are facing globally.