Home Articles Leadership: Converting strategy into action

    Leadership: Converting strategy into action


    A friend of ours was recently poached from one boutique software company by another. We ran into him about four weeks after he had started his new job. During the conversation, he made the observation that the two companies had virtually identical strategies, good quality people and reputable brands, yet one was going from strength to strength, while the other was struggling.

    This raises an issue that many organisations grapple with on a daily basis: how to convert strategy into results or translate ideas into actions. Many management gurus and academics have observed that the critical step of moving from knowing what needs to be done to actually doing it is very difficult. Here are five common pitfalls that you should look out for when implementing business strategy:

    Too much what, not enough why
    Most business owners / leaders have an intimate grasp of – and total commitment to – their company’s vision and purpose. However this often means that they underestimate the importance of engaging their people in it. Often there is so much focus on what needs to be done that the reasons why are either ignored or assumed. As well as seeking input from their people, leaders need to take the time to explain their vision and the rationale for it with absolute clarity. A one-off sermon from the mount just doesn’t cut it. By ensuring that your people believe in what they are doing and are confident in the strategy they are pursuing, you can dramatically heighten their motivation to take action and make things happen.

    Too much emphasis on the short-term
    It is common for organisations to focus on short term results. This, in turn, influences the way management measures an employee’s performance. Often employees feel so much pressure to achieve short term outcomes that they either take shortcuts or focus on activities that will produce immediate wins at the expense of the business’ longer term objectives. As a leader, you should strive to balance the demands of short, medium and long-term success and, in the process, value people for their contribution to all three agendas.

    Creating a dog-eat-dog environment
    Traditionally strong in sales environments, but often seen right across organisations is the phenomenon of internal competition. Many managers see internal competitiveness and motivating people through fear as effective tools for driving performance. While competitiveness between colleagues can produce quick results, it tends to result in attitudes and behaviours that are contrary to the organisation’s welfare, including the creation of silos, a lack of knowledge sharing and unnecessary duplication of effort. Leaders who encourage and reward cooperation and collaboration are more likely to see their strategies converted into action with far greater efficiency.

    Complexity over simplicity
    You may have heard of the adage: common sense is often not common practice. Too often in organisations today, complexity is equated to sophistication and intelligence, whereas simplicity is frowned upon. More often than not the solutions to critical business issues are not all that complex, but we make them so in an attempt to have them appear more legitimate or impressive. The result is that they become harder to implement and often end up on the scrap heap. As a leader you should try to talk in plain English and make solutions as simple as they can be. Doing so ensures that people are more likely to understand and act upon them, thus converting ideas into action more quickly and effectively.

    Overvaluing the importance of talk
    In business today, being able to talk a good game can often get you a long way. Most employees believe that they can impress their boss by saying clever things or coming up with the idea that no-one else had thought of. While valuing quality thinking is important, there is a danger that organisations value talk at a premium over action. As a leader you need to ensure that you reward action over talk and don’t laud the smooth talkers at the expense of the quiet achievers.

    Red Sky is a consultancy that helps Australian and multinational organisations to maximise business performance by converting strategy into action.