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A key challenge facing leaders at every level of an organisation is how to execute on their strategy.

They may take tens of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of man hours defining and articulating a strategy, and then…

…nothing happens!

This is an age-old problem that has exercised many a management theorist, and in this post we’ll do our best to make sense of it – and share a plan of action with you if you’re faced with this dilemma…

What really happens when strategies are formulated

First off we need to understand what really happens when strategies are formulated.

The image below illustrates the strategic process as we see it – have a look at the uppermost pyramid. There are four key parts of a strategy, typically:

· a vision

· a strategy itself (typically formulated against an understanding of reality, opportunities, and threats).

· a plan, and

· a set of actions usually delegated to departments, teams and individuals

All well and good then. So why does a simple formula like this so often fail ‘to land’?

Strategy’s missing ingredient

This is a question that has been the subject of numerous books. But increasingly there has been an acceptance that strategies fail when they fail to achieve emotional buy-in. Even John Kotter has now come around to the view that this emotional buy-in is the key ingredient of strategic execution.

Unfortunately there is still not a very good or coherent understanding of what this ’emotional buy-in’ means or looks like.

Here, we call this one thing: engagement.

Want strategy? – Give engagement

We have seen in this post how engagement is a key component of organisational capability.

High engagement levels are also central to executing on an organisation’s strategy, too, and it’s for this reason that we remain bemused that companies do such a bad job of employee engagement (you can see exactly what we mean by employee engagement here).

It’s incredible that while many organisations have ‘engagement’ surveys of different sorts, very few practise it. Instead, most engagement initiatives are empty philosophies, a survey that is then left to managers to follow up on by themselves, without much support or guidance.

And then… organisations either give up on employee engagement, or more typically, claim ‘we’ve done that, but it doesn’t help’.

The sad reality is that most organisations haven’t ‘done’ employee engagement at all – and employee engagement remains as stillborn as most strategies themselves…

Head, Heart, Hand revisited

Why strategies often fail to land is very simple: there is an emotional disconnect, as we have seen. Strategies are essentially an intellectual (or ‘Head’) endeavour, whereas what’s required to propel action (Hand) is emotion (Heart). All growth takes place when Head, Heart and Hand are aligned. Yet organisations so often go from Head to Hand directly and neglect the Heart.

Have a look at the illustration above again and you can see what we mean. The engagement factors in the pyramid below are really what drive the success of the strategy (above), by propelling action. All strategy can do in this is direct.

As neuroscientist Donald Calne pointed out: ’emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.’ When creating a strategy, which of the two is it that you want?

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’… Exactly!

Peter Drucker famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. If anything, this further demonstrates why engagement is where organisations should focus their efforts.

In the illustration above, we can see the backdrop of a tree. Roots are your people’s capabilities. Fruits are the output – the company’s direction. Culture is the soil (behaviours or ‘Hand’). Behaviours themselves are almost always an effect of the Heart (emotion) – which is your Engagement again!

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If you found this post helpful we’ll be following up with ready-made engagement strategies you can use to drive change and execute strategy in your team, function or organisation.

Why not ‘stay tuned’ by subscribing below…

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