Some organizations suffer from a problem where they constantly fail to implement new strategies, even though there does not seem to be any clear opposition to these ...

Two researchers at MIT decided to look for the cause, and they found six interacting risk factors.

In the article "The Silent Killers of Strategy Implementation and Learning", the authors Michael Beer and Russell A. Eisenstat analyzed a number of larger companies that had failed to implement new, decided strategies.

The result is a list of six "silent" barriers within the organization that, without making much noice, has the potential of effectively blocking all attempts to implement new strategies.

The six barriers are sorted under three different factors, all of which are needed to succeed in implementing strategies:
1. Poor quality of direction - The ability of top management to create an agreed, clear, anchorable and attractive vision
  • Inefficient senior management team
    An ineffective management team does not create sustainable agreements and does not take responsibility for implementation. By an effective management team, I mean a collaborative management team that works with a clear focus on the organization's best interests, where the members of the group feel trust and respect for each other and who support, challenge and hold each other responsible for decisions made.

  • Unclear strategies and conflicting priorities
    An ineffective management team (where group members guard their territories rather than create good agreements for the entire organization) does not take the tough discussions about prioritization and redistribution they would need to succeed, leading to unclear agreements / strategies where everyone's perspectives may be valid. Without clear strategies and priorities, it is difficult to get enough focus in the change work and implementation is slowed down.

  • Let-go or Top-down leadership style in the top management team
    If the organization has a leadership with inadequate follow-up and few or no consequences when there are deviations (a type of let-go leadership style) or has a strong culture of top-down leadership style (with limited two-way dialogue in the event of major changes), a gap arises between management and the rest of the organization. This makes it difficult for the organization to be inspired by the management's vision, and by not letting any challenges in implementing the strategies back to the management, the vision or goals can be perceived as unrealistic.
2. Poor quality of learning - Poor learning leads to a lack of understanding of the goal / strategies in the organization and poor ability to adjust the strategies or implementation, if something unforeseen happens in the organization
  • Poor vertical communication in the organization
    If the vertical communication through the management system does not work, it will have several negative effects:
    • the motives and trade-offs behind the management's decided strategies are not fully communicated to the entire organization, which creates shortcomings in understanding the implementation of the strategies, and
    • unless the challenges that arise during the implementation are communicated upwards in the organization, the management can not learn from what is happening, make relevant adjustments to the strategies and act to increase the conditions for success with the implementation.
3. Poor quality of implementation - Factors that affect the power of the rollout of the new vision
  • Poor collaboration across functions, business units and borders
    When the managers in the management team do not cooperate, it often results in their departments / units not cooperating either. Should one implement strategies (which often require cooperation and collaboration between several departments / units) in an entire organization, where different groups instead guard their territories, blame the problems on other groups and are unaccustomed to solving the problems that arise in the spaces together, the management finds it difficult to drive the implementation forward.

  • Insufficient leadership and development in the lower management levels
    Insufficient management leadership (let-go-leadership style) or top-down leadership style often creates uninvolved and overly operational leadership in the line. Managers who are focused on their own groups (but do not engage enough in the long-term development of the organization) will make the operational everyday life flow but not contribute enough in the implementation of the more long-term strategies.
However, if you discover that your own organization suffers from one or more of these hindering factors, it's a step forward! Since there is a lot of potential for development and gear to be gained if you actively work away these braking factors!

In the article "Stronger on implementation" under the theme "Success factors" here on, I describe the measures that counteract these obstacles and strengthen the organization's ability to implement strategies, which is partly based on the proposed methods to be able to identify, manage and remove the six barriers that the authors describes in his article.

The article can be ordered via Sloan Management Review