Learning’s Role in Executing Strategy

If you and your colleagues were asked to write down your organization’s strategy and top priorities, how many of you would be able to correctly identify them?

It might not be as many as you think.

A recent Harvard Business Review article (March 2015 Issue), Why Strategy Execution Unravels––and What to Do About It, offers a compelling example about an executive who took time every month to review the company’s strategy and strategic priorities with her management team. When polled, 84% indicated that they understood what their organization was trying to accomplish. But, when asked by researchers to write down the strategy in their own words and identify the top five priorities, only 55% could name one out of five. The research featured in this article focused on large, complex organizations, but I suspect that we would find similar results at organizations of all sizes. Why?

It’s not enough to publish and distribute strategic plans and promote strategy and strategic objectives in meetings. Everyone responsible for executing strategy and strategic objectives has to learn them.

What do I mean by learning them?

I don’t mean memorization. I mean grasping the significance of them. Members of your organization have to understand the reasons behind your strategy. They have to know how their daily work contributes to it. They have to see the connection between the objectives for which they are responsible and those for which others are responsible. They have to get how it all fits together to achieve strategic goals. Can you be successful if they don’t? Perhaps, but for how long and to what degree?

Are you willing to limit how much you achieve?

We all make the mistake of thinking that just saying something is enough. We forget the important role that learning plays. Were we heard? Understood? Do our listeners even care? Do they see how their interests intersect? Have they had the opportunity to apply the concepts and experience how they might work?

Here’s a non-work example. Let’s say you purchase a personal fitness tracker (e.g., a Fitbit). Your plan is to use it to raise your awareness of your daily activities so that you can make adjustments (i.e., your strategy) and ultimately improve your fitness (i.e., strategic goal). While simply wearing the tracker on your wrist may give the impression that you mean business, it will not help you achieve your goal. You have to learn what its features are, what they do and how you will know when you are making progress. You have to understand the tracker’s role in helping you achieving your goal. Otherwise, the tracker (i.e., strategy) is underutilized. It’s merely a hip wristband.

We can repeatedly promote our strategy, priorities and objectives, but until members of our organizations have truly learned them, to the point that they can write them down and explain how what they and others do contributes to them––our strategy will be ineffective, our priorities diluted and our objectives unrealized.

What might be possible if your organization invested in learning strategy?

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