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Strategy mistakes you must avoid

By Omagbitse Barrow FCA
31 January 2017   |   12:50 am
It’s the beginning of the year, and most institutions are either putting final touches on their strategies or just about to start implementing strategies that they developed earlier in the year or late last year.


It’s the beginning of the year, and most institutions are either putting final touches on their strategies or just about to start implementing strategies that they developed earlier in the year or late last year. Sadly, in spite of the great effort and cost that often goes into putting together a strategy, the odds are often stacked against the success of most strategies because of some simple, yet powerful mistakes that organisational leaders make in strategy development and implementation.

In the last 15 years, I have been involved in developing and implementing strategies and have found that understanding and avoiding some of these mistakes will enhance the chances of strategic success. I will like to share these mistakes, and hope that it can help you make better decisions regarding your organizational/departmental/team strategy in 2017 and beyond.

Firstly, never believe a consultant can develop a strategy for you to only review and endorse that will work. A company once invited a consultant to develop their strategy, the consultant did his due diligence, wrote a report, submitted his recommendations, took the company’s executives off-site for a couple of days to present their recommended strategy, got the executives to approve, and left them and the rest of the organization’s leaders to implement a strategy that almost nobody internally understood.

During implementation, the company’s leaders struggled first with even interpreting the highfalutin language used by the consultant before they could get to actual implementation. So, use consultants, but get involved in all aspects of strategy development rather than just waiting for their “almighty reports and recommendations”.

Another common mistake that organizations make is reducing the strategic retreat or off-site to a mere beauty contest. Senior Managers and business unit leaders are paraded one after the other to make presentations on their achievements from the previous year and their plans for the New Year. Some people use the opportunity to brag about their achievements and others get torn-down for their failures. There is hardly any creative thinking that happens and even worse the various ideas and plans cannot be harmonized or aligned, so you end up with a plan that only the department head understands and the organization continues to execute in silos, and continues to under-perform.

I have also observed some organizations whose strategy process involves only the very senior leaders. There is no input from the rest of the organization, and the 10-15 people often referred to as the “committee of old-men” assume that they are “all-knowing” Alternatively, while we recognize that not everyone can attend the retreat, you can get the input of all your employees before the retreat. This way the blind spots of the top leaders can be accommodated and implementation is a lot easier since everyone feels carried along, and rightfully so.

Even when some of these costly mistakes above are avoided, organizations make even more subtle mistakes in the strategy process like not allowing creative thinking during their planning or brainstorming sessions. For example, if there are no rules for ideating, many great ideas will be shot down and others bottled-up. There are a number of experiential facilitation techniques and creative thinking tools that enhance contextual focus – ensuring as many ideas as possible, and being disciplined about selecting and narrowing down to the best solutions.

Also, organizations hardly focus on the other very important element: managing the people side of change. The idea is simple, focusing on just the initiatives and projects without ensuring that the people who will implement are carried along can lead to a lot of resistance to change, which could and most likely stifle the success of your strategy. By paying attention to the people side and ensuring that all employees have a heightened level of awareness and desire to embrace the new initiatives, and that they also are provided with the knowledge and ability to implement the initiatives and that there is a leadership commitment and performance management to reinforce the changes and enshrine them in organizational culture, will inch you closer to strategic success.

Some organizations then cascade the strategy in one of two less than perfect ways – they either cascade to the next level of leaders and expect them to further cascade (ignoring how much can get distorted along the way) or they embark on these road shows that end up being monologues where employees never get a chance to give any feedback to the “iron-clad, cast-in-stone strategies that have just come down from the “mountain-top” Organizations should sell the strategy to all across all levels. When doing so, they should explain, engage and set expectations in a participatory conversation with their employees and be flexible to make changes to their strategy if employees give them cogent reasons to do so.

Finally and perhaps the most potentially damaging mistake that organizations make is not building capacity among its managers and leaders at all levels to be strategic. So, if leaders do not really understand the tools for creative thinking, decision making, strategy implementation and managing change, then how can they add value to strategy development and implementation. Such organizations may become too over-dependent on external consultants and may never be truly able to build and implement sustainable strategies without the constant hand-holding of consultants who often are not as knowledgeable about their business and industry as the people inside are. Surely, consultants have a role to play in providing external insights, research and analytical tools and frameworks, but ultimately, there must be capacity within the organizations to continue after the consultants leave.

As you build and implement your strategies in 2017 and beyond, you must be cognizant of these mistakes and pay attention to the alternatives that will enhance your success

Barrow is an Abuja-based Strategy Adviser with Learning Impact NG.

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