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People: their capabilities, behaviours and beliefs

Olive Fives is an innovative and successful organisational development consultant with experience in a wide variety of public, private and third sector organisations in Ireland, Europe and India. She delivers the module HR Management in the IMI Diploma in Management

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It’s a big day: your team has finally finished your strategy……after months of reflection, analysis, and challenging debates the team has agreed a plan.  If you’ve taken the classic prescriptive route (with the old reliables like PESTLE, Porter’s 5 Forces and SWOT) then the next job is to communicate the plan, cascade divisional and unit objectives, and allocate resources so that the organisation can get on with delivery.

But of course it’s rarely that simple.  In my experience working with clients small and large, public and private and NGO’s, the really difficult part of strategy is the implementation.  This isn’t news, for over a decade researchers and consultants (including Harvard, Wharton, Booz & Co.) have explored the reasons for strategy failure highlighting issues with alignment, measurement, cross-functional dialogue, and performance management.  The common denominator underlying these issues is people: their capabilities, behaviours and beliefs.

So, to deliver the strategy, spend more time on people planning than you do on financial planning or IS planning. The human resource is more challenging to source, monitor and manage than any other…..and not just because people think and feel and talk back (unlike cables or software), people remember. They remember the last failed strategy, the abandoned performance management process, the self-managed teams initiative and so your new strategy will just be another in a long line of new ideas that will eventually be replaced by something else – unless you can convince them otherwise.

It is not complicated or problematic to convince them, but it does take time!  It requires:

  • Excitement and energy: if the senior team aren’t in the game then no-one else will be either
  • Clear guidance about HOW as well as WHAT is to happen. This is particularly true if the strategy requires different interactions or behaviours
  • A consistent message, reinforced in measurement, performance objectives, feedback, rewards & consequences and hires & fires.  In every event and interaction, employees have to be able to see the strategy markers
  • Know what you want from them, and be able to describe it. ‘The right attitude’ or ‘the extra mile’ doesn’t tell them very much; you need to describe what’s required.
  • Finally, if your people really are your most important resource, then spend more time talking to them and about them.


For more see

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit (2013): “Why Good Strategies Fail”
  • www.forbes.com: (2011) “10 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail”


More information on the IMI Master of Business and Diplomas  or the IMI Diploma in Management 

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