“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” penned the poet Robert Burns in 1765. His poem “To a Mouse” laments the sad state of affairs of a field mouse whose winter nest has just been plundered by a plow, yet it also offers lessons for global executives who lead corporate strategy.
Legions of management annals, research studies and academic articles have been written over the years on strategic leadership and its essentials for success, many of which overstate strategy formulation to the detriment of “getting things done” strategy execution. This emphasis glosses over a simple yet undeniable fact: organizations are an organic web of personal relationships, contrasting motivations and competing agendas, which can undermine corporate performance.
Take a quick look at the primary pillars of strategy implementation – (1) identify core challenges, (2) devise a strategy to address them and (3) guide your team to implementing your vision – and you can see where the waters may get murky. Inherent in these three stages is a division of labor where strategy formulation is merely the jump-off point.
In order to effectively spearhead organizational transformation and change processes, global managers need to bridge the divide between “the thinking and the doing” by tapping their firm’s sources of power across functions and hierarchies.
IESE Prof. Fabrizio Ferraro explains: “Corporate structures have become increasingly horizontal, which means that managers can no longer rely on line authority or bigger budgets to push their agendas forward. Strategic decisions become political since, in order to reach their objectives, executives need to map out the organizational terrain, identify the social dynamics at play and leverage distinct networks that will effectively advance their strategy.”
In this context, the ability to map out pockets of power and build influence through relationships is paramount. While an organizational chart may serve as a guide, it falls short by discounting informal gateway players like “who has the boss’s ear” and “who controls the CEO’s calendar.”
Also overlooked is the profound cultural shift necessary for systemic transformation. In many cases, managers overestimate their role in shaping corporate culture and underestimate the leadership tools necessary to steer organizational change. To avoid these potential blind spots, managers need to do an honest self-assessment and delegate responsibilities to others who can fill in the gaps.
“Ultimately, effective strategic leadership is the sum of a myriad of concrete actions and not just one bright strategic idea. It’s about aligning the organization around a common purpose and devising a plan that for strategic leaders, begins with identifying the key individuals who will support and spread their vision,” observes Prof. Ferraro.
By gaining a sharper understanding of the terrain and harnessing its power, corporate strategists will avoid situations like Robert Burns’ mouse: armed with an excellent plan and little to show for it in the end.
Global executives responsible for driving strategic change initiatives will discover critical insights on successful strategy execution at IESE’s focused program “Getting Things Done.” The New York campus will host the US edition next October 9-11, 2018. The school’s Barcelona campus will host the next edition of the program next May 14-17, 2019.