Subscribe to Inc. magazine
LEAD

3 Reasons Good Strategies Fail

So that great new strategy failed miserably. But there might not be anything wrong with the strategy. Take another look.

We've all experienced the frustration of realizing that a highly prized, hard-fought-for, innovative strategy has gone south. 

You know the pattern: Hopeful execution is followed by poor results; then there's an initial period of denial, after which you double down on execution; then comes the pang of recognition that this just ain't gonna work; and finally the painful process of unraveling from what you now accept was a flawed strategy to begin with.

Sound familiar? I see this pattern repeat frequently in the leadership teams I work with, but I've also noticed something else. Around two-thirds of the time, there's nothing actually wrong with the strategy itself.

The core problem lies elsewhere.

Here are the three most common reasons good strategies go bad, and how to fix them without ditching the strategy itself:

1. You throw out the baby with the bathwater.The implementation of a new strategy often involves hiring or promoting someone who is specifically tasked with the implementation of that strategy: a designer for the splashy, expensive new website, perhaps, or a business development exec for the new strategic push into Asia.

Sometimes--often, in fact--we get the hiring wrong.

And, as a result, the strategy fails or seems to. Truth is, there may well be nothing wrong with the strategy. It's just that you hired the wrong person to execute it. But because hiring is difficult, we often just dump the strategy rather than go through the tortuous hiring process again.

So next time you realize you've put the wrong person in place to execute a strategy, don't dump the strategy. Take a deep breath and, instead, find the right person to implement it.

2. You pull up the plant to look at the roots. Who plants a sapling then pulls it up every week to see how the roots are coming along? That would be dumb, right? And yet I see it happen with strategic implementation all the time. A perfectly fine strategy is implemented, but rather than giving it time to show results, the postmortems begin almost immediately. 

And if results aren't forthcoming quickly enough, we start tinkering with the strategy--the strategic equivalent of pulling it up by the roots and replanting it over and over again.

Here's what I ask executives in the strategic-planning stage: Would you rather this strategy fail in six months or succeed in 12? Sounds like a no-brainer, but if the answer is that you want it to succeed in 12 months, then it's up to you to be patient and give it that long to bear fruit.

3. You didn't execute. Remember Netflix's recent pricing blunder? Some research analysts calculate that the company could have lost up to 30% of its recurring income as a result of the ham-handed way it tried to split subscriber plans between DVD rentals and streaming downloads.

The fact is, splitting the physical DVD rental business from the streaming download market makes a lot of sense. In fact, strategically, Netflix will have to find a way to make this happen if it is to remain competitive in both markets.

The problem wasn't with the strategy. The problem lay with the clumsy tactics the company used. So next time a strategy of yours goes belly up, ask yourself, Is it really the strategy that's at fault, or does the problem lie with how you executed it? If the latter, gird your loins, make the changes you need, and try again.

More:
Last updated: Sep 24, 2012

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: