Original insights in international business and marketing

Why Great Strategies Fail


The benefit of experience is that you start to recognize familiar patterns in the ways organizations behave.  A common one is the borderline obsession companies have with strategy & growth.  Weeks and months get invested into creating elaborate & externally focused strategic plans… which rarely meet expectations. How can that be? An over-eager growth mindset can sometimes completely ignore a latent danger within most organizations: The lack of internal alignment. No matter how good a plan, without proper alignment, execution is doomed from the start.

All companies, especially larger and more mature ones, are subject to internal strife, politics, factions, rivalries, legacy mindsets, mistrust, fear, inertia, conflicting priorities, etc… It’s human nature.  Together, these forces can paralyze an organization or lead to compromise solutions.  As marketing and management devote themselves to elaborate strategic plans and grand customer visions, they often forget about organizational inertia and broken/missing processes or under-estimate the depth of internal resistance to change.  Such internal dysfunction can lie hidden or ignored for years.  Eventually, internal hubris will force management to look more inwards as they seek to understand why their strategic plans consistently fail to deliver.

Bottom line: If key internal stakeholders and executors of a particular strategy are not fully on-board, it won’t matter how good your strategy is or how much customers like what you have to offer.  Too many plans are built upon the mistaken assumption that internal execution will be flawless and that strategic messages will be readily adopted by the first or second broadcast.  Reality and academic research, however, continue to remind us that messages need to be regularly repeated (and often) before stuff actually sinks in.  Change takes time and repetition.  Without broad internal alignment and buy-in, execution inevitably falters.

My advice to organizations developing new strategic plans or changing business models is to devote as much attention on internal alignment & execution as they do on external customer acquisition.  I realize that this may sound like sacrilege in an era of intense customer focus. But how many times have we seen (flawed) execution fail to live up to the branding and messaging?  Many companies, for example, have promised simplicity, superior service or ease of use with their solutions only to reluctantly realize that their internal systems and customer facing services were completely out of sync.  If you dig deep enough, you will probably find an internal alignment issue behind this.  Fortunately, there are several ways to go about avoiding this pitfall.  Potential solutions may include:

  • Ensuring (visible) senior management support and endorsement. Note: In strategic alignment meetings, don’t confuse silence on the part of some as consensus. Get explicit commitment and buy-in from everyone. Assign a high-level sponsor, champion or owner.
  • Using charismatic and high-energy promoters across the organization
  • Clearly communicating the “why” or the “reason for being” of the new strategy
  • Identifying (early on) the likely internal “hold-outs,” road-blocks or potential resisters.  Proactively reach out to them and try to understand their issues.
  • Using multiple communication channels to disseminate the new message internally. Regular e-Mails, videos, Twitter, Newsletters, internal blogs, podcasts … Repeat, repeat, repeat!
  • Adopting appropriate alignment/execution milestones & metrics
  • Holding exchange and dialogue forums for stakeholders to discuss and ask questions. Maximizing face-to-face communication opportunities (Town Halls, Q&A sessions, department meetings)
  • Establishing a quick reaction team to address unanticipated roadblocks or issues
  • Considering involving HR and possibly external change management experts
  • Ensuring adequate budgeting for internal strategy deployment and campaigning
  • Running surveys to monitor progress of adoption and understanding
  • Assigning appropriate training and education activities if new skills are required
  • Celebrating successes and early deployment progress (not just in Sales!)

I’ve often heard people say that they were more worried about their own organization (getting in the way) than they were of the competition. But as Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” In a broader sense, I think he was saying that real success can only be achieved when you truly understand both internal and external capabilities.  Business leaders and strategists would do well to recognize the importance of seeking internal alignment before rolling anything out.

Andrew Hyncik is an International Strategic Marketing & Product Development veteran with 20 years of experience in the MedTech, Healthcare and Pharma industries. For more Medtech insights and original articles, visit MedtechMojo

photo credit: splosh via photopin (license)

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This entry was posted on October 27, 2016 by in Business Skills, Management, Marketing.

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Andrew Hyncik

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Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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