So you’ve designed your strategy. You’ve analysed the insights, ran the workshops, tested your arguments and finessed your PowerPoint slides. You have, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful, and well thought out strategies, in the history of the world. They call you Sun Tzu around the office.

Then it’s buy-in time, you run it through with senior management or the key decision makers and it all goes south!

You go back and forth for days, weeks even months. Choices become fewer, compromises are made, you plan on being Spotify, and you end up being JB Hi-Fi Now.

jb and spotify

What’s gone wrong?

Potentially many things, but this post will focus on a few most common issues.

You’ve engaged the key decision-makers, senior management or influencers too late and have communicated in the wrong way.

These leaders have years of experience and insights, plus we all have egos to manage (even our own). By excluding these people from the early conversations around difficult decisions and harsh realities, you’ve missed not only quality strategic-thinking but potentially lost your biggest advocates!

Besides including them too late in the process, you’ve also employed a less-effective communication method, a presentation rather than a conversation. Only to make matters worst, you’ve delivered to them the strategy you think THEY are going to want to hear so that you can get sign-off. You’ve tailor-made the deck, you’re playing with loaded dice!

Let’s Summarise.

  • You engaged those with experience and influence – too late. You  don’t need to waste their time and bring them in on every meeting, however-  once you’ve got the analysis and are facing difficult questions, find ways of getting their input, on clearly articulated problems, even if it’s just for ten minutes.
  • You didn’t have a conversation. Presenting implies one person speaking; there wasn’t a dialogue. With a dialogue, you can work through questions, ideas and make decisions, now you can’t harvest the years of knowledge in an optimal way. You’ve got to deal with retrospectively justifying your position, to someone who MAY know better.
  • You played with loaded dice. Your strategy hides some difficult choice or negative story that should’ve been made or argued, rather it’s only showing the face of the die you want to show. Making difficult decisions is fundamental to great success, avoiding difficult decisions is fundamental to great failure.
    • On a side note to this point, I see the same problem when agencies pitch to their clients. You’re focussing on making the client happy, winning or keeping the account. You’re not a clown; you’re not in the happy business. So, If you do this, I implore you to stop. Put the business, and it’s objectives first, engage the client early on, educate them through the real harsh-truths but work with them to find REAL business solutions.

Of course, there are other factors that can help get you across the line, like bringing in an external expert who has the independence to challenge traditional thinking. There’s also other reasons why your strategy may still fail; you’ve got to consider if the culture within the company will adopt it. The best strategies die in the wrong cultures, but that’s a post for another day.

For now, engage early, develop a dialogue and tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you.

Fabian Di Marco, Director of Strategy