Beware of Strategy’s Incurable Disease – Failure to Implement

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There are two important keys to a company’s strategy. The first is the analysis of the strategic choices to make and steps to take. The second is the implementation of those strategic choices. And that is where a lot of companies struggle.

When they take a good, hard look at what they are doing, most companies can identify numerous areas for improvement. This is actually a very healthy exercise, since no company is ever perfect and can always get better, and having a continuous improvement mindset is a consistent pattern at the highest performing companies.

However, this mindset usually leads to a sizeable laundry list of issues; things to change, fix, and address. This is where many well-meaning companies make a crucial mistake. They don’t prioritize that to-do list and wind up doing too many things at once.

While this is a challenge for both large and small companies, it is especially an issue for private and family-owned companies that have much more limited money and people resources to throw at problems that need to be fixed. Having worked with private companies and their owners all my life, one thing I’ve consistently observed is that they are not overstaffed. Implementing new strategic initiatives is a time consuming process, and it has to be done with the company’s existing human resources while everyone continues to do their day job.

Failing to recognize the time and effort involved in implementing strategy, particularly in an environment of scarce resources, is the cause of what I like to call Failure to Implement (FTI). Many companies suffer from it, yet their entrepreneurial spirit convinces them that they can overcome the obstacles. That rarely happens, though, and many end up working at 10 things that are implemented 10 percent rather than sticking to a vital few things and fully implementing them.

Curing yourself of FTI requires having a clear mind about your available resources and what new things you can realistically implement beyond the day-to-day running of the business. It means that you have to reasonably prioritize the things your company will focus on, and not try to do too many things at once.

Here are some suggestions to help prioritize your strategic issues:

  1. Recognize that your company will be better off implementing one thing completely than only making partial progress on a number of things.
  2. Consider breaking larger initiatives down into smaller pieces with shorter implementation timeframes.
  3. When prioritizing an initiative, give consideration to:
    • How closely the initiative fits with your core strategy
    • Which initiatives will have the biggest economic impact
    • Which will address your largest risks
    • Which align best with your core competency
    • Which offer the best tradeoff between ease of implementation and impact on the company
  4. Maintain a working list of what you decide to pass on for now, in case you’d like to revisit these items later.
  5. Review your initiatives on a 90-day cycle so you can evaluate your progress, re-focus, and re-plan in order to get the highest impact for the company.

Most profitable private companies are continuous improvement machines. But they are also sensible about prioritizing implementation and rational about the human resources available get the work done while still running the business. Ultimately, they know that they are better off getting a few things fully completed than many things just started.  

Mario Vicari, Kreischer Miller

Mario O. Vicari is a director with Kreischer Miller and a specialist for the Center for Private Company Excellence. Contact him at



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