The pandemic may have pushed companies to transform quickly, but many well-intentioned strategies have been lost in the rush.

Turns out most companies are great at writing strategies but terrible at delivering on them.

Up to 90 per cent of strategies will fail, studies have shown, thanks to a range of issues that often stop companies from achieving their goals.

Managers often get caught up in their own narrow focus, for example, and lose sight of the overreaching vision.

And employees often have their own visions of strategy and what is required to deliver on it.

Trying to manage these many agendas often leaves managers and executives ‘herding cats’ as organisational effectiveness suffers from conflicting practices and scepticism over common goals.

Without a way of monitoring what’s actually happening in the company, companies can easily veer off track.

In one recent Gartner survey, 40 per cent of executives said their enterprise accountability and leadership are not aligned around strategy execution.

Common problems include insufficient visibility and control over the way the business implements the strategy, a short-term ‘firefighting’ mentality, and change fatigue amongst employees that feel disconnected from the strategy process.

“Many executive leaders don’t have a documented three- to five-year business strategy because CEOs haven’t produced, updated or shared the latest iteration,” Gartner said, noting that two-thirds of employees “do not understand their role when new growth initiatives are launched”.

“Sometimes, it exists, but hasn’t been shared effectively business and functional leaders; in yet other cases, the strategy has changed without many business leaders realising it.”

Simplifying strategy for SMBs

Ash Brown has been there and done that.

In three different previous senior management roles, he watched as managers and employees struggled to deliver on what were supposed to be widely-supported strategies.

“Because I was working in the C-Level for the last 15 years,” he told Information Age, “I noticed that the top half was getting frustrated with the bottom half, and the bottom half getting frustrated at the top half.

“No-one actually communicated what their vision of the business was or understood why they were doing what they were doing.”

A clear strategy can help by providing a reality check for whatever is going on in the organisation – but small business owners rarely have the luxury of building or tracking their progress against formal plans.

To be effective, strategy requires consistent support and messaging across every part of the organisation – but this can be hard for small businesses that tend to be so immersed in day-to-day issues that they lose sight of the forest for the trees.

“Strategy can really be one of those things that can intimidate,” Brown said, “especially for small-to-medium business owners who jump on Google to learn how to write strategy and can only find McKinsey documents and software and the like” intended for large enterprises with complex organisational structures.

Brown – who was already contemplating a career switch to become a freelance business strategist – saw an opportunity and began building a cloud-based collaborative tool called Empiraa, which will launch this year after two private funding rounds raised $747,000 in what he sees as a show of support for better strategy management.

By using videos and other resources to guide simple conversations – spanning areas like vision statements, core values, and key pillars of growth – Empiraa aims to “afford clarity,” Brown said, “and just really get [business owners] talking with real simple conversations, like the BBQ conversations you would have with your friends.”

Escape the strategy trap

When those conversations happen on a regular basis, businesses can improve their strategic execution by embracing what VP analyst Bill Finnerty calls ‘adaptive strategy’.

Speaking during Gartner’s recent IT Symposium, Finnerty outlined four core elements of adaptive strategy: starting execution early to provide time for iteration; responding to changes as they happen by frequently reviewing strategy; involving everyone in the organisation in strategy; and embracing and exploring uncertainty.

“Strategy is our path to success in the future,” he explained, “but the future is increasingly uncertain – and if that is uncertain, then it’s difficult to be able to chart that path to where you need to get.”

“We can’t be paralysed by this uncertainty, or we’ll become victims of disruption rather than succeeding because of it.”

By guiding overwhelmed entrepreneurs and small-business leaders through this uncertainty, Brown hopes to help small business owners overcome this paralysis.

Empiraa is working to launch in 2022 and ramp up the domestic business before a 2023 push into the US.

“Having a very open strategy that’s open to the business, that every layer of your business can see and collaborate with, is super important,” Brown said, “because it engages employees.”

“And if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last two years, it’s that engaging and collaborating with your team is paramount.”