The hardest thing about strategy is to implement it.
Anybody can have a great plan, but that plan is only as great as the ability of the people around to understand it, believe in it, and make it happen.
It comes down to culture.
For that reason, Peter Drucker’s quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is probably on every management consulting firm’s overview material.
Personally, I like Mike Tyson’s quote better: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Same concept in this context, just more direct. There is also something more human about it, you can imagine the pain and the taste of your own blood.
How do you make people aware of the plan? That’s still fairly easy. Good communication will do.
How do you make people care? That’s where I find many executives fail.
People don’t understand why your point matters until they understand what they will win or lose personally if they don’t act, or react.
WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me”. Certainly a concept that’s quite useful if you’re dealing with human beings.
For instance, as Tyson tells us, be prepared for you plan to fail, or maybe even lose your teeth.
What you win and what you lose are essential to any good story. They’re what make the narrative trigger strong feelings.
If you’re one of these businesses pretending to be all about empathy, you should really be very good at pining down gains and losses.
Humans make decisions based only on logic, right?
Turns out, not so much. In fact, research shows that emotions play just as great a part, perhaps even a greater part when it comes to committal.
What to do exactly?
You’ll make your story interesting and people will listen if you can make them care about the stakes at an individual level.
Put things in context.
Alert people of the risks of going the wrong direction and inspire them to take action by telling them what they are capable of doing.
Celebrate achievement – Show the potential rewards – what the world could look like, what there is to gain.
Show what people will win.
Probably even more importantly, show what they will lose.
It turns out that people have a tendency to prefer avoiding losses instead of acquiring something of equal value. This is the referred ad loss aversion in cognitive psychology.
Don’t be afraid of adding drama. The lack of drama in a strategic story is a big problem. No clear relatable problem is a problem.
Share a story that warns of the dangers of doing nothing.
My client John Bjornson, President of Point B Capital, did a masterful job at this in a keynote he delivered to alert the leadership of a large healthcare group about the danger of ignoring the internal call for innovation in their organization.
He used the example of Sears, where initiatives to start selling online kept being ignored in the early 90’s. This was almost at the time Amazon was created. We all know the end of that story.
Call this the upside and the downside if you want, call this the stakes, call this anything you want. Just make people care before you and your strategy end up flat on your backs in the ring.