Top 10 Reasons Why 90% of Business Strategies Fail (a.k.a. Poor Execution)

July 13 , 2020 •  5 minute read by Saeed

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.” Steve Jobs

Organizations are as alike and unique as human beings.

It is widely known that strategy execution is difficult for many organizations as evidenced by studies that suggest only 13% of companies effectively execute on their strategies. There is clearly a disconnect between the plan outlined by leadership and the on-the-ground strategy execution by employees on the front-line. 

In my individual coaching and consulting work, I have routinely found that many of the challenges both individuals and organizations face can be traced to a lack of what we will call execution discipline.

You can think of execution discipline as both mindset and methodology. If you lack either, your execution will falter. So what are some of the most common barriers to execution you ask?

Let’s take a closer look.

1.      Ambiguity

Author Patrick Lencioni, says, “The enemy of accountability is ambiguity”. Vague/changing requirements lead to poor unfocused execution, missed project deadlines, scope creep and all other manners of mayhem.

Tip to overcome this:  A clear, well-managed scope that is understood by all is the key element to successful projects. Develop project work plans/accountability charts to establish clear ownership and accountability and have regular check ins to evaluate progress and make sure the focus has not changed.

2.      Analysis Paralysis

It’s a common problem. You are studying the problem too long without acting, feeling stuck and not advancing your goals.  A recent Stanford study suggests that over-thinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks, but keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.

Tip to overcome this: Get out of your own head and talk it out with someone else. When paralyzed by a particular decision, reaching out for someone else’s opinion, literally anyone else’s opinion, can help you break through the paralysis.

3.      Communication

If your implementation wheels are stuck in the mud, you might have inefficient communication & information flows – it’s vital to keep everybody informed on the project status at all times. Lack of efficient communication will lead to errors and delays. This may include difficulty of gaining access to information.  In these environments, it often takes too much time to make decisions, is too arduous to get approvals for resources, and is too difficult to navigate the “chain of command.” The lack of access to information and communication can also lead to unnecessary conflicts.

Tip to overcome this: Communicate early and often. Effective communication takes time and effort and commitment from organizational leaders for it to work. It also takes understanding what communication channels are available to you, optimizing those channels and creating new ones where needed.

4.      Follow-Through

The effectiveness of a meeting can be measured in terms of its outcomes. If people don’t follow-through on action plans, tasks and decisions after the meeting ends, then one needs to question the value of having a meeting in the first place.

Tip to overcome this: The leader is the single most important factor in follow-through. It’s your job to be clear at the end of every meeting who is responsible for what and by when. A leader can use these tools and techniques to achieve more effective follow-through after a meeting including written action plans, delegating leads, and establishing clear deadlines (backed by accountability).

5.      Indecisiveness

This is a close cousin of Analysis Paralysis. In today’s world, we have infinite access to information and choices of products. Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his findings that increased choice leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction. Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning.

Tip to overcome this: Intentionally limit the amount of information you consume or the number of choices you have available to you. James Clear has a good approach that he lays out in Atomic Habits which entails controlling your environment for maximum success.

6.      Perfectionism

Voltaire, the French writer, said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” And, of course, there’s Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

Trying to get everything “perfect” = you take longer to produce results. Perfectionism becomes a career limiting behavior as you move up through the ranks. Being a perfectionist when you’re a manager can hold you back even more than if you are an individual contributor as you burn through results and people.

Tip to overcome this: Adjust your standards, make your standards situational and embrace this new axiom: good enough is good enough.

7.      Procrastination

Procrastination is as old as time. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” Procrastination isn’t just a bad habit, it’s a bad habit that with adverse health outcomes. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being.

Tip to overcome this: You’re likely procrastinating the task because you a) don’t know how to do it or b) don’t like doing it. Find something positive or worthwhile about the task itself – dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in the task and if you don’t know how to do it, boy do I have a website for you: Google. But all joking aside, if you really want a great resource to overcome this check out the work of David Allen. 

8.      Resistance

Do not be surprised by resistance! Resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change but much resistance to change can be avoided if effective change management is applied on the project from the very beginning (i.e. get employee buy-in). Effective stakeholder management is the ability to identify individuals affected by/likely to affect the successful outcome of the project. A skilled project manager will ensure a collaborative working environment where project phases can be analyzed and discussed by all stakeholders.

Tip to overcome this: Isolate the source of resistance by interviewing each team member to see how your employees are responding to the idea of implementing the project.  

9.      Resources

It should hardly be a surprise that if you have inadequate funding/investment/sponsorship for your project, you may not realize its full potential. Internal competition for resources can also be an impediment especially when times are lean.

Tip to overcome this: Often, project leaders fail to understand the level of investment needed in infrastructure, personnel and other resources because they do not have a realistic view of what it’s going to take to see the project through to completion. It is therefore critical to make a realistic assessment before project start, use the resources provided and create a plan to gain the resources needed.

10.  Systems

This includes not only systems to advance the work but systems to measure progress.  The old proverb, “You manage what you measure,” is paramount to strategy execution. Many organizations are still using spreadsheets to track objectives. This can work between a manager and employee, however, these systems do not make it easy to aggregate results or create transparency.

Tip to overcome this: Adopt technology that can provide predictive analytics on goal attainment. Predictive analytics is not an exact science; however it provides a reflection point on how a goal is tracking. The more a goal has visibility the more a goal will be managed.

A Final Word…

It is vital to successfully launching a new effort that the leaders understand the strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies of the organization or system in which they operate. Try to anticipate barriers to implementation so that you can develop strategies to minimize their impact or avoid them altogether. Changing how your organization executes strategy may seem like a complicated and challenging change management project, but it can be done relatively quickly and incrementally with immediate results. If you want to know where to start, start at the top. 

Good Luck

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©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

One Reply to “Top 10 Reasons Why 90% of Business Strategies Fail (a.k.a. Poor Execution)”

  1. Most of the reasons are covered but I would like to add main reason for execution failure is lack of correct information to take good decision.
    Resource barrier causes failure of critical projects in the early stages of implementation which affects strategy execution.on the contrary pumping resource
    Beyond a limit hoping falsely that project will somehow bring success is another cause for execution failure as the sunk cost in the project drains resources.


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