The People Dimension of Strategy Execution

When preparing for change, business leaders devote significant time, money and resources to developing a comprehensive strategy execution plan. However, despite their best efforts, seven out of ten change programs will fail.

More often than not, people challenges such as resistance to change and inadequate executive sponsorship are the reason behind failed strategy execution.

Not surprisingly then, identifying how to inspire commitment and garner support for change is a key challenge for executing transformation and sustainably realising organisational strategy.

Looking to the literature, mitigating the challenges surrounding strategy execution requires the interplay of three elements – creating a shared vision and purpose; leveraging organisational cultures; and leading and motivating strategically aligned behaviours.

Below are some tips to help leaders and management teams win commitment from employees and generate and maintain the momentum necessary to operationalise strategy and deliver effective and lasting change.

Creating a Shared Vision and Purpose

A compelling and clear vision and purpose are essential to establishing commitment and support for any change. To be effective, a vision must create excitement and energy among employees. It must also be consistent with the values and objectives of the organisation, and it must facilitate action.

To create a clear and shared vision and purpose around strategy execution, leaders should look to collaborate with staff by inviting them to provide input on strategic issues, involving them in strategy implementation, and encouraging participative decision making:

any power-sharing arrangement in which workplace influence is shared among individuals who are otherwise hierarchical unequals…[this] may entail various employee involvement schemes resulting in co-determination of working conditions, problem solving, and decision-making

By fostering a supportive work environment based on open, trustworthy and participative communications in this way, leaders can help build consensus and enable strategic change.

Leveraging Organisational Cultures

To build support amongst employees for strategy execution, leaders must understand their organisation’s dominant culture and subcultures, and incorporate this understanding into communicating and actioning new strategies. Peoples’ affinity for the groups to which they belong shapes not only their perceptions of those groups, but also their perceptions and commitment to the organisational culture more broadly.

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Numerous studies have found, for example, that organisational subcultures are a better predictor of organisational commitment than organisational culture. This means managers must be aware of the subcultures that exist, and target interventions at the subculture level to drive greater commitment across the organisation.

Leading and Motivating Strategically Aligned Behaviours

Gaining commitment to an organisation’s strategy and direction is also only half the challenge, as people do not always behave in accordance with their beliefs. For change to be successful, employees must also exhibit strategically aligned behaviours. Promoting such behaviours can be achieved in 4 ways:

1. Increase motivation by setting challenging goals

Challenging but achievable goals are essential to motivating employees, and are inherently linked to performance. For example, teams that set challenging goals are both more motivated, and more likely to employ useful strategies in completing tasks than teams who set easily obtainable goals. For strategies to succeed, organisations must promote proactive goal generation and goal striving by putting in place processes and support mechanisms that enable goal setting and tracking, personally engaging in open and regular goal-setting and celebrating successes when they occur.

2. Provide process-oriented feedback

The way feedback is delivered is crucial to the degree to which it helps motivate. For example, individuals are more likely to accept feedback when it is process oriented (i.e. actionable) than when it is outcome oriented. By employing process-focused (rather than purely outcome focussed) feedback, employees can pinpoint clear and specific actions for achieving their goals in the future, which can positively influence satisfaction, performance and motivation.

3. Target different motivational orientations

While some individuals are motivated primarily by achieving positive outcomes (promotion focused), others are motivated by the need for security and the wish to avoid negative outcomes (prevention-focused). These different regulatory styles affect how individuals define their goals, and the strategies they use to attain them. Leaders need to be aware of these different regulatory styles and adapt their management strategies accordingly. By communicating both the promotion, and prevention-focused aspects of change to employees, leaders can increase motivation and support for change.

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4. Encourage self-efficacy

Enhancing an employee’s capabilities can strengthen their belief in their own ability to change (self-efficacy), which in turn affects their level of commitment. Managers can increase employees’ self-efficacy by letting them experience success in performing a portion of a task; through role modelling; and by getting people a staff member respects to encourage that staff member directly. This will boost staff’s belief in their own ability to change, and in turn, will strengthen their level of commitment to change.

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Andrew is a full-time Management Consultant and part-time blogger who loves getting at the heart what makes businesses successful and customers happy. Read more about Andrew at his website


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