In a nutshell here is the problem with traditional strategy: it is all to often divorced from reality.
Traditionally the greatness of a strategy was measured in terms of its ambition and vision. Strategies were highly aspirational – they were about vision, mission and purpose.
But what good is aspirations and visions unless they are translated into reality. Management sets out a wonderful strategy, but nothing changes. It is like this: they imagine the car heading in a new exciting direction, but nobody actually takes the steering wheel and makes it happen. It is the classic gap between strategy and implementation and the reason why most strategies fail. Aligning strategy with implementation is the most common point of failure.
If strategy is to be successful then managers cannot go around with their heads in the clouds. Rather they need to make sure that the rubber meets the road. That their ideas and aspirations are steeped in reality and directly translated into action.
One of the key reasons why so many strategies fail the implementation test is that they were devised by senior executives with little first hand market knowledge. They were made in corner offices and in boardrooms many miles from the reality of customer needs, competitive threats and so on.
The problem is no MBA can compensate from the lack of front line market exposure. Managers may have lots of information in the form of market analysis data, consultant’s reports or anecdotal market feedback, but yet lack real market insight. That is because there is only so much strategizing that can be done from behind a desk. The result is that the strategies set don’t survive first contact with the marketplace.
Nobody likes ‘back seat drivers’, yet that is exactly what those at the front line get when it comes to the strategies they are expected to execute. The dominant tendency to set strategy at the C-suite (and with little or no consultation with the front line) means that those driving the car are being instructed by those who know little about the car or indeed the track the car is on.
The process of setting, implementing and reviewing strategy has to shaped by the front line. That is essential if those who will be expected to implement the strategy are to take ownership of it. It is also the only way to ensure that real time market feedback shapes the strategy.
It is important that strategy engages with multiple perspectives of what it takes to win. That means the front line as well as the C Suite.
The ‘T’ in ‘FAST’ strategy stands for working together as a team and the requirements of collaboration and alignment. But it also stands for testing or trying out – pointing to the importance of blending planning and action.
So, the question for those who are involved in shaping strategy is: