Making Strategy Stick

We witness this scenario too often: a bold new initiative is announced. A strategy is painstakingly assembled. An exciting launch follows. 

Then—thud—it’s back to business as usual. Employees brush it off as another “flavor of the month.” The project champion loses a bit of credibility. And the next bold new initiative is taken even less seriously.

If this sounds familiar, know you’re far from alone. According to McKinsey, 70% of change initiatives fail to reach their goals.

The barriers to making strategy stick

The good news is that experts have identified some common barriers we can all look out for.

One of them is the curse of knowledge. Once we deeply understand something ourselves, it can be difficult to remember that others may need more help in reaching clarity. In the case of rolling out a new initiative, we often end up using language that’s high-level and abstract. It makes sense to us but doesn’t resonate with others.

Another barrier is decision paralysis. It’s easy for us to become overwhelmed by all the choices we need to make as our new initiative goes from theory to practice. Where to dedicate efforts and what capabilities are needed. This can lead to delays and confusion among frontline employees.

Biases, politics and egos can also get in the way. As McKinsey points out, jobs—even careers—are on the line. The pressure to succeed can sometimes blind us rather than motivate us.

Overcoming the barriers—and coming out on top

As challenging as it can be, learning how to make strategy stick is a skill worth cultivating. It can set you and your organization up to thrive. Outpace the competition. And adapt to new market realities.

So what can a marketing leader do to master this art? 

Consider the human element of change. We’re wired to resist change when we don’t understand it. And when we feel uncertain, we revert back to old habits. The more aware we are of these tendencies in others, the more likely we are to successfully push past them.  

In our experience, it helps to meet stakeholders one-on-one and use your storytelling skills when you talk about change. This forces you to look for common and concrete language. Which, in turn, gives people context in a more meaningful and memorable way—helping them understand where they fit in the journey. 

Identify priorities. To overcome the decision paralysis that often stifles change, set clear priorities. Which KPIs should matter most as your initiative starts to roll out? This makes it easier for frontline employees to act quickly and make decisions. 

If you need support here, it doesn’t hurt to seek advice from a third-party expert. Or, at the very least, consult our handy prioritization guide. 

Treat changemaking as a group activity. No matter how good we are at our jobs, we can’t single-handedly steer change. We need a strong team at our sides.

Bain suggests putting together a group to support change over the long-term. Including people who are generally seen as trustworthy doesn’t hurt. 

It’s also helpful to stay focused on creating specific results. Otherwise you might find yourself swallowed up by an elaborate change process with no clear end point.

But keeping your eyes on the prize doesn’t mean you need to rush things. The most successful cases usually take a considerable length of time.

Lead by example. Research shows that the highest predictor of sustainable change is how leadership behaves.

Set a vision that goes beyond numbers and clarifies direction. Ensure that you and other leaders show commitment through action—rather than just town halls or emails. Maintain momentum by setting short-term goals and celebrating them.

Ultimately, you’ll have better odds of success if you treat changemaking as a fundamentally human exercise.  

Change management wizard Jeff Hiatt sums this notion up nicely: “The secret to successful change lies beyond the visible and busy activities that surround change. It’s rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate change with one person.”

Jul 13, 2023

Further Reading