Why Strategy Dies

Spend enough time in business and you will likely collect a shelf-ful of dusty binders packed with expensive strategic thinking. What do you actually remember from any of them?

That has nothing to do with whether the strategy was good or bad. Strategy in a binder is worthless; effective strategy lives in the beliefs and actions of employees. And that is where too many businesses drop the ball. This is the discipline of engagement, communication and storytelling—and it is every bit as important as the strategy itself.

Putting the right strategy into action has never been more important than it is right now. But if what you’re really looking for is another dusty binder, here are seven sure-fire ways to make sure your strategy suffers a quick and certain death.

Seven Ways to Kill Your Business Strategy

  1. Let the strategy do the talking. Don’t waste words trying to connect your employees to a larger organizational purpose or story. Now is not the time for context. Your employees are professionals—they can follow direction and understand expectations without all the surrounding “soft stuff.”
  2. Roll it out and let it go. Nothing is more frustrating than employees who need to hear direction more than once. Don’t cater to them. Launch your strategy with a bang, and then trust teams to take and run with it. You’ve invested enough time in building the strategy… you shouldn’t have to keep talking about it.
  3. Build the strategy without input. Employee engagement is one of those fuzzy business concepts that is a luxury for better times. Right now employees need direction, expectations and accountability—not to be asked what they think.
  4. Use lots of business jargon. Rally your team around strong statements like, “Our key strategic priority is to improve base business performance through a focus on mission critical activities, maximizing our assets, and fully leveraging expense productivity.” What could be more clear? Employees will be champing at the bit to get started.
  5. Don’t worry about addressing what’s in it for them. Forget all this talk about “making strategy relevant for the audience.” The only thing that’s relevant is that you have clear expectations and your employees are being paid to meet them.
  6. Control all communication channels. Set yourself up as the only trusted source of information. That way employees won’t ask their own supervisors what’s going on, and you can eliminate the potential for inconsistent messaging.
  7. Forget small steps… focus only on completion. The team should be focused on perfection, not progress. Don’t waste valuable time and resources celebrating small wins when there is so much still to be done.

These ideas may be exaggerated, but in a moment of honesty most business leaders would admit to having had at least some of them as passing thoughts. That’s understandable. But if they become your approach—even by default—then you can go ahead and stick that binder on the shelf now, because all you’ve created is another dust collector.

Strategy works when employees understand how it is connected to a larger organizational story— Where are we now and how did we get here? Where are we going from here, and what do you need from me? Strategy works when it is simple, clear, directional and relevant… when it is communicated consistently by every leader in the organization… when employees feel like they actually helped to shape it… and when small wins become great examples of what a team can achieve together.

This is the discipline of engagement, communication and storytelling. And it is every bit as important as building the strategy itself.