What are the pillars of success for strategic initiatives? C-Level executives answer that question with the following four items: good strategy, commitment of stakeholders, anticipating obstacles, and good program planning. I view them as three pillars that I call good strategy, strong commitment, and planning/thinking strategically. (Some people refer to strategic pillars as strategic planks.)
The findings in this article originate a study of 163 C-Level executives conducted by Financial Dynamics (a consultancy) in cooperation with Forbes Insights (part of Forbes Media). The investigators asked the C-Level executives this question,
“What was the primary reason why the strategic initiative met or exceeded expectations in terms of effort required and delivery of expected benefits?”
Pillar #1: Good Strategy
Having the “correct strategy,” was the top-ranked reason for strategic initiative success, cited by 33 % of C-Level executives.
A correct strategy for a strategic initiative is one that matches a problem or opportunity with the organization’s internal capabilities. Although strategic initiatives stretch the organization (see other postings on this site for examples), they should are achievable (thus, the strategy must consider the needs for funding, talent, focus, and other resources). As a rule of thumb, a strategic initiative is a one-to-three year endeavor.
So, what is a good strategy? First, strategy is characterized by the four attributes, listed below. Note that a good strategy performs on that attribute better than does a bad strategy:
- Strategies bridge the past and future. Good strategies are future focused, with a set of coherent ideas and results that move towards that future state.
- Strategies are both planned and opportunistic. Good strategies are have a budget, scope, and schedule but they are also open to opportunities that could not be anticipated by a methodology.
- Strategies guide investment. Good strategies help managers make choices on where to place their scarce resources. If organizations had unlimited resources, they would not need a strategy.
- Strategies involve coordinated actions by many people. A good strategy will have thoughtful linkages about the timing and scope of these actions.Richard Rumelt’s excellent book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy explains that the three elements of a good strategy are: a diagnosis that defines the challenge, a guiding policy that describes the overall approach, and action that is coherent. Each stakeholder needs to commit to making the recommended action, and do so with awareness of others.
Pillar #2: Securing & Maintaining Stakeholder Commitment
Commitment is essential to success and is nearly equal to strategy as a success factor in the opinion of C-Level executives. Executives report that they have to spend considerable time working with middle-level managers to clarify direction and secure the needed changes in structure and behaviors.
I have written several other articles on commitment (commitment is the willingness to invest in the face of uncertainty), buy in, and leadership.
Pillar #3: Planning and Thinking Strategically
For this pillar, I combined two factors from the FD/Forbes study, “Anticipating Obstacles” and “Upfront Program Planning.” There are many obstacles, but the two that seem to catch the attention of C-Level executives are continuing instability in the economy and shifts in government policy. The upfront planning activity is the obvious need to integrate and schedule factors such as investment, leadership, teams, resources, and communications.
Do you agree with these factors?
- A Guide to the Three Types of Strategy and Business Model Scope (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Strategic Thinking (Part 1): A Fight with Ambiguity (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Strategic Initiatives | Executive Sponsor Roles, Power, & Politics (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)