When I was a kid and our family was going on vacations or trips by car, my dad would spend hours studying roadmaps prior to piling the family in the station wagon and taking off. This was long before GPS technology was even a fleeting thought in some genius programmer’s mind. When I asked my father why he was spending all that time poring over the roadmaps, he told me, “Son, if we don’t know the best way to get from point A to point B, obstacles could get in our way, and we’re not going to get where we want to go, will we?”
It wasn’t until I got into the business world that I realized it’s the same with organizations and their strategies. A company strategy is really a detailed roadmap for how the company is going to get from point A - their current state of doing business, to point B - greater profitability, shareholder value, customer satisfaction, etc.
Most companies draw the map, have a strategy, and tweak it as the business conditions and the economic environment in which they operate change. However, these same organizations are still largely failing to execute the business strategies they painstakingly create.
In fact, a July 2015 McKinsey research article found that 70% of strategic change programs “Fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. We also know that when people are truly invested in change it is 30 percent more likely to stick.”[i] The key component here is people being truly invested from top to bottom in the organization. I once worked with a transportation-based company that benchmarked package delivery leader UPS. We were studying how vehicle maintenance technicians at UPS structured their preventative maintenance workflow on UPS trucks. A colleague told me that when he asked the technician why he followed the specific time and motion procedures (he used to check the oil, tires, and overall inspection of the truck), the technician quickly responded, “So I can get the package to the customer as quickly as possible.” That’s an example of an upstream worker being truly invested and engaged in the company strategy and objectives.
Successful execution of organizational strategy hinges on getting employees to see the personal benefit of changing their behaviors amid a company culture that encourages and rewards those behaviors. This is easier said than done and tends to be the challenge for many organizations. It’s also the primary reason why so many strategies fail. Many companies don’t consider the human element in successful strategy execution, particularly those on the front lines who make or break the customer value proposition and how the strategy is carried out. Your employees want to feel like the work they do makes a difference and contributes to the company’s success. That’s why you hear the term “alignment” in organizations that execute their strategy well. HR processes such as cascading goals can be a powerful tool to create alignment and employee engagement, and that’s where the importance of a good talent management strategy and effective use of Human Capital Management (HCM) technology come into play.
The elusiveness of good company strategy execution is real. While the work is tough, it’s up to managers and leaders to get people on the path to success. HCM technology, when done right, in conjunction with a well-connected strategic roadmap, strong processes, and culture to help deliver the strategic direction can be an enabler of this success. I’ll tackle this in Part 2. Stay tuned!
[i] Changing Change Management: July 2015. Boris Ewenstein, Wesley Smith, and Ashvin Sologar. McKinsey & Company Insights & Publications.