I fully understand that real change is hard, but I'm convinced that more focus on the execution is required to overcome the current 70 percent failure rate for strategic transformations.
While pulling together my thoughts on how to better implement change initiatives, I was happy to see some specific guidance in a new book, Ruthless Consistency, by Michael Canic, PhD. He brings a wealth of experience to the table, based on years of consulting work with middle-market companies around the world.
I support his summary of five key steps to get beyond the planning:
1. First check your view of the reality of your situation.
If you start with a distorted or biased view of what your company needs, no execution is likely to achieve the results that win. Also, if you are not totally committed in spirit, as well as resources, to a strategic change, it probably won't happen. Doing what it takes to win involves risk and sacrifice.
Another reality is that sending mixed messages to your team will kill your change effort quickly. If a change initiative is "highest priority" today, but another takes its place next week, people will not take you seriously. Consistency and attention to detail are critical.
2. Replace strategic planning with a change process.
Strategy must be a process, with an implementation system behind it, rather than just a periodic event. The process must focus not only on the "what" but also on the "how." This must include metrics and tracking, with the necessary systems and resources to act, recalibrate, and iterate as required.
A change process gives you and your team a structure for execution, and clears the desk of non-value-added activities to focus on the strategic work. It means applying rigor to the execution, and being prepared to pivot the initiative in an ever-changing marketplace.
3. Create the environment and equip people to succeed.
Strategic execution requires a business environment where everyone is on board, and able to complete their part of the process. Team members must be engaged and enabled to do the job -- that means aligned, equipped, coached, supported, and valued for the work and changes ahead.
Communicate with people, not at people, before, during, and after you develop any strategic initiative. Validate everything you do from their perspective, as well as yours. Give primary attention to those who are promoters of change, not the recalcitrant few.
4. Be selective in recruiting and building the right team.
Look for people with a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset that may be hard to change. Give special attention to traits that fit your specific customer context, or a higher purpose you espouse, such as a focus on the environment. Beware of biases that can work against strategic initiatives.
It is very important to regularly assess your selection process, and all new team members, at the end of each period. Team members who don't meet expectations must receive special coaching or be replaced before they negate other team member efforts.
5. Personalize your commitment and lead the initiative.
Don't allow yourself to be the enemy by letting external distractions take priority, being selectively inaccessible, or not making timely decisions. Control your ego, and practice being vulnerable at the right time to maintain their respect. Your team commitment must be evident and actions consistent.
Jeff Bezos, the legendary founder of Amazon, believes his commitment to his team is his key to sustained strategic leadership. He admits that he still has to sell his team on many of his biggest, boldest ideas, and he is indebted to them in keeping ahead of competitors.
In business, there are no guarantees of success, but the requirements for strategic change are certain. Whether you give only lip service to this requirement through strategic planning or implement a formal business infrastructure to attack these challenges consistently is up to you.
In my experience, the steps outlined here will definitely increase your odds of success and survival. Also remember that what you do and feel is not enough -- execution depends on team selection, engagement, and commitment.
It's up to you to align their hearts and minds on winning. Winning together is more fun anyway.