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Posted: May 23, 2011

Failure to launch

Seven reasons business strategies don't succeed

David P. Mead

Superior execution is one of the strengths of the Colorado success stories we have been profiling over the past few months. But these companies are the exceptions; nearly 65 percent of all strategies fail to reach expectations.

Why do so many business strategies fail? Barriers to successful planning and execution develop in all companies over time. In fact, some of the very things that help a company succeed at early levels can prevent them from succeeding at the next level. The key is to address these challenges so that the path to execution is uncluttered. Below are seven reasons company strategies fail to deliver desired results.

1. No clear definition of success

Fuzzy goals lead to fuzzy outcomes. While it seems obvious, many organizations simply don't articulate the specific goal of a business strategy. If the goal of your customer intimacy strategy is to form deeper customer relationships, that's fuzzy. If the goal is to increase customer retention by 10 percent and increase annual revenue per customer by $10,000 and net profit by $1,000, that's clear. Here, forming deeper customer relationships is simply the mechanism to achieve the goal.

2. Too many goals

When everything is a priority, nothing gets accomplished. Many so-called strategic plans have too many goals, objectives, success drivers, strategies, initiatives and so on. Worse, it's not clear how these various appendages are linked. Is it any surprise these plans sit on shelves and collect dust? Choose to do fewer things, but do them much better.

3. Metrics and alignment - Either no metrics or vague metrics

Many plans are simply a brainstormed list of things to get done by unspecified people at indeterminate times. A plan with specifics outlines who will do what by when. It takes into account the sequencing and timing of tasks, activities and resources. Make certain that the goals of everyone in the organization are aligned to the few key objectives.

4. Visibility - Progress isn't measured and managed

Ever notice how plans placed in the spotlight flourish while those left in the dark shrivel? Any plan worth executing is worth tracking. A monthly meeting with a tight agenda can quickly determine what actions have been taken; what progress has been made; what will be accomplished over the next month and by whom, and what, if any, challenges have emerged. This builds commitment, accountability and confidence in the process.

5. You lack the right people

Some of those nice people who work for you may not be the right people to get the job done. That statement makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it? Many have been loyal, are committed to the culture, and may be friends and family. However, if you are truly committed to winning, or achieving success - however you define it - then at some point you have to take a long, hard, honest look at the capabilities of your people. Point them in the right direction, support them, develop them - give them a fair chance to succeed. But if they can't get it done, then your responsibility is to get people who can.

6. Flexibility - Failure to update the plan to stay real

Reserve the right to do what makes sense. Plans are based on assumptions that can change over time. If they do change, then the plan may need to change. A "recalibration" meeting every 8 to 12 weeks is a good forum to test your assumptions and determine which, if any, have changed. The meeting may result in either a revalidation or redesign of the plan. It ensures the plan stays real and relevant.

7. Reaction to failure - Failure is met with indifference or an inquisition

Is your team serious about its definition of success? Your response to failure sends a clear message about your commitment to winning. Just as importantly, it sends a message about your credibility. Do you ignore a failed initiative and move on to the next big thing (which conveys that you really weren't that committed and you shouldn't be taken seriously)? Do you look for scapegoats (which communicates that you don't take personal responsibility and can't be trusted)? Or do you first look in the mirror, take responsibility, then publicly commit to getting it right, and effectively engage your people to make it happen? Your choice speaks volumes about who you are as a leader.
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David Mead is President of The Mead Consulting Group, a consulting and advisory services firm, based in Englewood, that has been helping Colorado companies grow since 1981. The firm's 40+ senior consultants with operating backgrounds assist Colorado-headquartered companies with strategic growth and execution, improving profitability and cash flow and maximizing value at exit. Dave is the past Chairman of ACG Denver and a long-time Board member and is on the Board of Young Americans Bank. Contact Dave at: meaddp@MeadConsultingGroup.com or (303) 660-8135.

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