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How Many of Your Organization’s Strategic Initiatives Succeed?


My guess is that your answer is less than half or at least “not enough of them.”

Delivering on strategic initiatives on time, every time, is the hallmark of organizations that are best in the world at executing strategy, and they’re rewarded with a premium put on the value of their company.

Organizations that can’t deliver on their strategic initiatives fail at executing their strategy, and organizations that fail at executing strategy will not survive. It is just that simple. Improving how your organization delivers strategic initiatives increases your ability to execute strategy and, therefore, should be one of your organization’s top business imperatives.

Defining Strategic Actions

Strategic initiatives are those high-priority actions taken by organizations to close the gap between their current performance and their future vision. These critically important initiatives generally meet the following criteria:

  1. Action(s) taken to move the organization towards achieving stretch goals defined in their future vision and strategy
  2. Is expected to achieve significant/breakthrough improvement to business results and contribute to increasing the value of the organization
  3. Is a major change and departure from the current way of doing things
  4. Impacts a majority of stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, management) who will need to adapt to change for the initiative to be successful
  5. Has a temporary life: there is a defined start and completion date
  6. Requires significant investment of time, money, and people

Companies spend billions every year on strategic initiatives that meet these criteria with less-than-impressive results. More than half of these are abandoned when failure appears to be inevitable. Only 4 in 10 add value beyond the investment made and the ROI on strategic initiative portfolios (the collection of strategic actions) typically delivers 60% less than originally expected.

Strategic Action Mindsets

Why? We believe it is because many organizations approach the planning and implementation of these strategic initiatives with a “field of dreams” mindset: “Build it, and they will come.” This way of thinking drives an approach that is focused on building and installing the right solution followed by a belief¾a leap of faith¾that people and results will naturally follow. While that might work in Hollywood, I doubt you would want to bet your company’s future on it.

Organizations that consistently deliver strategic initiatives and successfully execute strategy demonstrate a “strategic intent” mindset that drives an approach that is very different. A strategic intent mindset drives planning and implementation with a relentless focus on defining victory and achieving strategic outcomes. This results-orientation leads to investing time at the beginning of every strategic initiative to be clear on intent in definable and measurable terms. This, in turn, drives an approach to planning, managing, and implementing strategic initiatives that is not just focused on installing a solution, but also on what is required to realize the full intent behind the solution. This approach delivers strategic actions that produce breakthrough, sustainable results.

Strategic Action Delivery

So what is the mindset applied to managing strategic initiatives in your organization? Below we have provided a quick diagnostic to help you answer that question. We have organized a series of statements based on N2Growth’s four pillars of strategic action delivery. These are stated in the opposite direction desired to clearly illustrate the difference between the two mindsets discussed above.

  1. Initiative Intent
  • There is little or no strategic intent/value defined up front
  • There is no clear and articulated vision for the desired future “to be” realized
  • Key leaders or key groups are not aligned and committed to the intent of the initiative
  • Key stakeholders who must support intent realization have not been engaged
  • There is pressure to compromise the intent of the initiative
  • There are no controls or process to prevent/manage “intent drift”
  1. Portfolio and Program Management
  • Initiatives planned with assumption that installing a “solution” equals success
  • Solution design is based on business as usual, not future vision
  • Aggressive rollout plan provides no chance to focus on value
  • Integration and interdependency issues associated with other initiatives are not managed
  • Iterative and rapid delivery approaches are not followed
  • Inadequate resources are deployed to realize initiatives
  • Inaccurate, infrequent status reporting
  1. Organizational Change Management
  • Initiative plans do not include tasks to manage people through change
  • The organization’s leaders are not prepared to be active and visible sponsors
  • People in the organization are suffering from initiative overload and this has not been taken into consideration in initiative plans
  • Success requires substantial change to people’s mindset and behaviors, but the approach does not identify how that will be managed
  • Impacted groups are expected to push back on the changes required to achieve initiative realization, but there are no plans on how to manage resistance to change
  • Teamwork and collaboration amongst leaders, initiative teams, and key stakeholders are insufficient for success
  1. Governance and Risk Management
  • There is a lack of integrated participation from the business and support area leaders in strategic initiatives
  • There is a lack of discipline to commit to a regular cadence of executive oversight meetings by the right level of leaders
  • Focus of governance activity is limited to budget, time, milestones, and deliverables only
  • Risks to realization of expected results are not understood, measured, or proactively managed
  • Timely, fact-based decisions are not made to keep the initiative on track
  • Honesty and integrity regarding the reporting of initiative status and resolutions of realization risks are not in place

I suspect your results from this quick diagnostic have identified that your organization has a little of both mindsets when it comes to managing strategic initiatives. The key to success is making a conscious choice to adopt the strategic intent mindset and then to identify which of the four pillars of strategic action delivery where you can begin to make improvements. Whether your organization is facing the implementation of one major strategic initiative or a portfolio of them designed to achieve your business strategy, you can dramatically increase your success by adopting the right mindset and focusing on the four pillars of strategic action delivery.

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