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5 Common Reasons Strategies Fail…

What is the line about all unhappy marriages being unique or something?

Same goes for failed strategies…they all have their own certain flavor, but there are some common reasons that show up over and over again. I’ve picked my top 5:

The Not Really a Strategy Strategy: Maybe this is the most common one now, but in too many instances the main reasons that an organization’s strategy fails is because it isn’t really a strategy at all.

A wishlist. A bunch of tactics dumped into a hat.

Whatever it is, it isn’t a strategy.

Strategies require focus. They require you to make choices about what you will or won’t do. And, they require you to have an understanding of where you are going to go in the form of a SMART objective or goals. (This doesn’t mean you don’t course correct or change, but you have to start with a direction that points you towards future success.)

“I’ll Tell Them What They Want”: This one can be illustrated by the numerous meetings we’ve all likely sat in when someone goes, “What people really want is…” while offering no data or observable data, just an anecdote from a situation that may or may not have happened.

For a strategy to have success, it needs to be focused on the customer. It needs to be focused on creating and keeping customers.

You don’t achieve that by thinking you are going to tell the customer what they should want, you achieve this by actually getting into the market, listening to customers, and finding a way to deliver value to them that they will really want.

It is the opposite of guessing or “thinking”…

“I’ll Have One…Of Everything”: If you’ve ever seen a kid on the night of Halloween surveying their newly acquired candy.

If you are a parent, you might say, “Pick a couple of pieces.”

Don’t. Limit it.

But you come back to find your kid has lost all sense of restraint and has tried to shove one of each in their mouth at once.

This is also a pretty good way of thinking about why strategies fail because in too many cases, organizations try to be something to everyone.

It can look like chaos. It can look like tons of choices. It can look like “we don’t want to say no to anyone.”

But what it really is is a lack of picking a direction, setting up a strategy, and focusing on your customers.

A good example to look at here is the expansive catalogue of products that Apple had before Steve Jobs returned to rescue the business back in the late-1990s. They made printers, computers, hand held devices, some sort of TV, and a lot more.

They made a lot of stuff, most of it not well, and were on the verge of going out of business.

You can’t be everything to everyone.

If you try, that’s usually an indication that you are going to have trouble.

“I’ll Get To That”: You can run with this is a few different ways.

You might not deliver on your promise because of poor execution.

You might not get to everyone and act like good enough is good enough.

But the way that I typically see it as a lack of getting to your commitments.

In mapping out your touchpoints, you’ll find that there are a few things that have a bigger impact on your customers than everything else you do. In too many places, these things are missed because of a checklist of things that “have to” be done even if they don’t really impact the customer much, if at all.

To have a truly successful strategy, you need to make sure that you hit all the key touchpoints that matter to your customer and get to everything else after the customer is satisfied.

Lead Shoes: This one is my favorite because it conjures images of all the bad spy novels I’d read about Florida as a kid and even into today where at some point someone ends up on a boat with the threat of “concrete shows” or something of the sort to silence a problem.

Ahh…but when it comes to strategy, the lead shoes you are going to deal with mean that the organization has taken the stance that you make a strategy and it is fixed in place, never to move until the next time that you are going through the strategic planning process.

I don’t believe in that because too many strategy documents are 3-year, 5-year, or longer documents that aren’t really strategies but wishlists, list of hopes, or just a bunch of random hopes pulled from thin air.

Your strategy should be more flexible than that.

In studying marketing and branding, I studied the work of Les Binet and Peter Field and the focus on “long and short” in marketing and advertising.

The gist of the idea is that you have to invest in both long-term brand building activities that target the full market, that are emotional in nature, and are done over a longer period of time like years. Combine that long-term with some short-term, sales activation activities in the short-term like direct mail, online CTA placements, or other forms of direct response actions that will drive instant revenue.

The exact breakdown varies depending on industry, but a good rule of thumb is 60/40. 60, long. 40, short.

What does this have to do with “lead shoes”?

Everything because it highlights the reality that you can build your strategy with that long-term focus, dedicating resources and attention to the long-term vision you have for your organization. While, at the same time, you have a great deal of flexibility to make short-term decisions that reflect changes in the market, opportunities that you may not have been able to plan for, and things that are working better than you imaged…among other things.

The key is that you can’t allow your strategy to be something that shackles you in place. On the flip side, you also can’t allow your strategy to be something that happens willy nilly either. But that is a story for another day.