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Bruce Holland

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In the last Strategic Snippet I showed how 76% of strategies fail during implementation and promised to tell you what you can do to improve your success rate in future.

Reasons why strategies fail to be implemented

There are three main reasons for failure during implementation. These are:

  1. Lack of Resources

  2. Lack of Alignment (This will be covered in a later Snippet)

  3. Lack of Operationalisation (This will be covered in a later Snippet).


Many strategies and change processes fail because they are not resourced sufficiently. The plans are often technically sound and yet they still fail during implementation because of:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of money/budget (This will be covered in a later Snippet)
  3. Lack of management attention (This will be covered in a later Snippet).


As managers we all know that changing a behaviour is difficult and takes at least three months because what we have to do is change a current set of habits. People operate in a way which is totally consistent with their current set of habits. Therefore to make lasting change we have to change these habits from those which produced the previous results to those which produce the required results.

To change even a single habit takes at least three months of continual practice, otherwise people simply revert back to their previous behaviours and nothing will change. This practice includes developing the knowledge (what to change), the skills (how to change) and the attitude (why to change) of the people. It may be useful to think of the necessary components as three intersecting circles. Change occurs when all three intersect.

Changing knowledge is usually the easy and quick part. It's also the part that usually changes most during a traditional strategy workshop. By far the most difficult and longest part is changing skills and attitudes. As I said in the last Snippet I used to think of my role as helping managers in mostly large organisations think through the strategies required to make them more focused, fast and flexible. It took me some time to realise that the knowledge bit was the easiest bit. People would leave my workshops buzzing, clear often for the first time about where they all wanted to go and eager to make it happen. Then, in most cases, a few months later when I checked up on progress they had lost the direction and the energy. The trouble was managers lacked the skills, they knew what was required but didn't know how to do it. Also although their attitude was buzzing when they left the workshop they did not know how to transfer this energy throughout the organisation. So within months progress slowed and a year later we almost needed to start again.

The question I grappled with for some time was how to develop the skills and attitudes to undergo such significant change in a sustained way. Part of the solution is simply allowing sufficient time and opportunity for change to occur at all levels, to all people in the organisation.

To achieve this level of change it's important to start with the managers because they are major role models. No matter how much other people may want to change they will not be able to unless the managers are totally committed to a new way first. Recently I've discovered a way to support/train managers at a fraction of the cost of most training processes. The breakthrough comes from having regular short sessions (2 to 3 hour modules) every week, for at least 16 weeks, wherever possible at times when managers come together anyway. In between the weekly modules managers are given readings and practical exercises based on their lessons. The result is like a three month Harvard type program but taking less than a week in formal training and costing little in travelling time. I have found that it's important to plan for this support/training at the start so that everyone understands what will be delivered and why.


Why do we assume that strategic plans will be implemented without allowing sufficient time to change deeply held habits and behaviours? It's no wonder that most strategies fail!

Next snippet

Next time I'd like to continue the theme of time and show why it's important to allow time not just for the tops to be involved but also the middles and bottoms. I'll also show why it's important to allow time for people to buy the new direction rather than trying to sell to them.

These are important issues and if you'd like to discuss them further please call me on Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland.



Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work

Key words: strategy, strategies, business strategy, business strategies, strategy management, strategic management, strategy development, implementation.

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