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How to overcome strategy's biggest barrier

Urgent versus ImportantBy far the most critical part of any strategy cycle is the execution. It's rare for anyone to develop a strategy that isn't deliverable, yet most strategies don't get delivered, or at least, not in the shape or time-frame that was initially envisaged.

They get defeated by “day job”

When the Important work of strategy, change and innovation clashes with the Urgent day-job of getting that sale, hitting the monthly target and turning around a report for the boss, Urgent day job always, always wins.

So how can strategic projects get the level of priority they need to succeed? Here are three golden rules that will make a huge difference.

1. Accountability

Ensure the KPIs for every strategic project are clearly agreed and singularly owned by a senior individual. It's your job to make sure they feel accountable for their bit of the strategy, and see it as a core part of their day job. The relative weight you give, in every interaction you have with them, to the strategy versus their functional targets, will determine how well your strategy is delivered.

2. Urgency

Ensure all strategic projects are visibly broken into short stages with specific outcomes or decision points – no single stage should last more than a couple of months. Never let your team manage risks and issues by allowing the dates for live stages to slip. Instead, have them cut down the scope of a stage and add more stages if necessary. This will ensure you keep the pace high and the focus sharp.

3. Focus

There will always be resourcing conflicts and trade-offs between strategic projects. That's why having a large number of them running across swathes of the organisation will always lead to conflict, delay and ultimately failure. Focus your projects into small, dedicated teams wherever possible. Where strategic projects necessarily affect multiple parts of the business, ensure the business only takes on two or three at a time. Any more, and the conflicts and trade-offs they create will quickly become a barrier bringing delivery of your strategy to a halt.

Bottom line

If you want to ensure your strategy is delivered, stick to these three golden rules:

1. Keep strategy at the heart of conversations, ensuring individuals feel clearly accountable for key projects and the associated KPIs.

2. Simply refuse to allow deadlines to drift – let teams shrink the scope and add in extra stages if things aren't going to plan, but keep that foot on the gas.

3. Ensure as many projects as possible have a dedicated team and keep the number of cross-functional projects to three or less.

Now look at your strategic agenda. How well does it conform to those rules?

To read more about how to engage your strategy click here

To learn why major projects fail click here

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