Why Strategies aren’t implemented.

Have you ever said something that sounds really silly, then replayed it in your head and thought “Actually that’s really profound”.

I was trying to describe the strategic process to someone the other day and I ended up saying:

“If you have no desire to be somewhere else, then you must be happy with where you are.”
– Me

I immediately thought “what a stupid and obvious thing to say” then I thought “No, that is exactly right!”

If people are happy where they are, and have no desire to be somewhere else, then they have absolutely no motivation to move. They will stay where they are.

This in the context of strategy is why strategies are often not implemented. The people who are supposed to implement them have no desire to be “somewhere else.”

One of my professors at Wits Business school, Prof. Rasoava Rijamampianina “Rija” used to say:

“The only person who appreciates change is a baby with a wet nappy”
– Prof. Rija

This is really it. Have we as strategists spent enough time on the consequences of NOT changing. If the organisation believes it is OK where it is, or that the strategy is not addressing the right problems then change will not happen.  What’s more if the change is forced it will only be sustained as long as the leader who forced it is continuously maintaining it. As soon as that leader leaves, the fascade of change will fall off.

  • The People implementing it need to believe in it.
  • They need to understand why staying where they are will be disastrous.
  • They need to understand why it will be “so much better” where we are going
  • They need to believe in both of those.


This doesn’t mean the strategy is the right one, or that any of the promises it makes are true. We have many examples from history of people fervently and whole-heartedly striving for something totally wrong. The strategy was wrong, the outcome disastrous but the strategy WAS IMPLEMENTED.

The skill of the strategist is two-fold then.

  • Find the “best” strategy for the organisation that will have desirable outcomes.
  • Convince the implementers of the need to change.

Some of my stakeholders will say, “Yes, Yes, Yes! That is exactly what we need! We agree. Let’s do that” and then they proceed to do nothing.

Intellectually they agree with the proposed strategy, but they do not believe it will be implemented, or they believe it will not address their immediate needs. This is of course the proverbial “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Watch out for this. Those people need special attention. A strategy will not be implemented if the people who have to implement it do not believe in it as evidenced by their actions.

I have waffled a bit, but I think the point is clear:

  • Make sure your stakeholders believe in the proposed strategy.
  • Measure their belief by their actions, not their words.
  • If you want it to be sustainable, avoid the temptation to use “Brute Force” to get it implemented.
This entry was posted in Management, Philosophy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Strategies aren’t implemented.

  1. Tim Howland says:

    I enjoyed this – especially the beginning. (Oh and I see someone else used the word “enjoy”.)

    I have been at the same company going on 10 years. I wanted to leave in week 2.

    And really wanted to in month 2.

    And surely was going to in year 2.

    I wrestled with it a lot this year.

    Every time, I stop at “where else do I want to go?” and find less motivation for changing jobs than making this one work for me.

    It means I like it here. Not because the company is perfect, but because of many other aspects of this job.

    Congrats on your position at PRASA.


  2. Madeline says:

    Very informative post Malcolm, I enjoyed reading it. I particularly like your quote – as “obvious” as it may appear at first glance, it is exactly right and good to remind ourselves of this every now and again in order to do stock take of where we are – in our personal as well as professional lives.

    I’ve recommended your blog on Stumbleupon – hope you get lots of stumbles as I’m sure many people will enjoy reading your blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *