Mentoring: Failure Isn’t Always Caused By Poor Execution

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Successful small business owners don’t just look in a mirror in the morning and ask, “How are we going to make money today?” They set objectives, establish metrics to let them know if their objectives have been achieved but, most of all, they look at their strategic failures as learning tools. When asked why their strategies failed most will say, “poor execution.”  But it is much more than that.  

Then, ask the same group of individuals what problems or challenges they struggle with the most, and they will tell you that they involve things like:  accountability, leadership, employee engagement, alignment with objectives, organizational culture and, most commonly cited, communications. What they really are saying is that the foregoing are symptoms of the lack of execution.

Strategy execution is putting the plan into action in the form of objectives and key initiatives, monitoring their progress, making necessary adjustments, and ultimately driving toward and achieving those objectives set out in the strategy.  When organizations fail to adapt to changing environmental factors that impact the trajectory of their actions in support of objectives, they will fail.  Knowing what factors impact the business and making sound decisions relative to managing change is key to success in achieving key strategies.  

Effective strategy execution requires having a well-managed framework of leadership, collaborative communication, and meticulous planning. And it must be communicated both vertically and horizontally.  In order for the strategy to be executed successfully, everyone at every level of the organization needs to not only understand the strategy and its impact on the organization, but they need to understand their role in the execution of the plan.  

The needed resources include engaged and well cared-for employees who function as a team to execute the strategy.  And, behind them or in front of them is leadership that will not accept “good enough” as a bottom line.  This is leadership at every level from ownership, operating leadership to first-level supervision.  They may have to adjust over time to the changes in the environmental factors affecting the organization, but they have to have long-term commitment to seeing the strategic execution of the plan through to completion. Without courageous leadership, most if not all, strategies will fail.

Strategies also fail when there is no alignment between the objectives for which the strategies are created and the actual functioning of the organization. They are also doomed when decision making is emotion based, not fact based.  And this happens often when the organization fails to monitor progress by not having KPIs (key performance indicators) in place.  

Most conventional wisdom says that it’s “poor execution” that’s causing the majority of strategies to fail. It’s the symptoms of “poor execution” that causes organizational strategies to fail. The strategies may be outstanding but, without concentration on the symptoms, failure may be in your future. 

So, what do you do?  It’s not so simple, but author Tony Fountain offers the following advice: 

  1. Find the root cause of the failure by starting with all the symptoms
  2. Take a break if you have to, but don’t give up
  3. Overcome the failure and “get back in the saddle”
  4. Compartmentalize and focus
  5. Do not lower your sites and ambitions
  6. Find like-minded people to help you see the situation differently 
  7. Own the mistake that caused the failure and maintain the pursuit. 

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, Certified Mentor, SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands.,, 508/775-4884.  Sources: “Why Business Strategies Fail,”, “Seven Outstanding Ways to Overcome Failure and Succeed,” Tony Fountain, Founder and EIC, Now Entertainment.