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Leader, listener, peacemaker – how to deliver strategy effectively

Posted on by from Henley Business School

To deliver strategy effectively, you must address infighting and lack of engagement, says Andrew Kakabadse of Henley Business School.

Engagement at senior level

A deep lack of engagement between senior managers and the rest of the workforce is growing. Organisations are ignoring their employees and stakeholders, putting the mechanics of strategy delivery ahead of any value that strategy will deliver to the business.

Research carried out in over 18,000 organisations in more than 30 countries shows that tension and division at senior level is rife. More than a third of the world’s managers responsible for devising their organisational strategy are caught in continuous, damaging infighting. As more than two-thirds find it difficult to raise the issue, it remains unaddressed, leading to further problems for organisations. 

Contradictions at the top

The strategy might be brilliant and the capability of the top teams unsurpassed, but if contradictions, mixed messages and poor engagement exist, the ability to deliver as a whole will be compromised. These findings challenge the template for leading through change that has existed in management for 60 years. General managers know the challenge of implementing an ambiguously formed strategy – as the ‘meat in the sandwich’ between an untrusted top management and frustrated middle and junior management, they are forced to action a poorly thought-out strategy.

Studies across 14 countries show that board members appear out of touch and unable to reconcile deep-seated divisions. In the UK, 80% of board directors admitted they did not know why some of their colleagues even sat on the board. The same percentage could not agree, or did not know, the competitive advantage of the firm on whose board they sat. In countries outside the UK, the situation is even worse.

Value delivery versus strategy delivery

For truly world-class leaders, strategy determination is one part of the success equation. Their passion is value delivery, because they understand its rewards. Before they attempt to deliver their strategy, they undertake proper evidence-based investigations to identify concerns and where engagement is lacking.

Including middle managers and the workforce in addressing the problems leads to ‘distinctly high levels of motivation’ and a profound desire to engage with top managers in realising success. “Someone has the guts to listen to us”, is a regular comment at high-performing enterprises such as Caterpillar, Macquarie Bank and the newly redesigned IBM. Evidence suggests that it is not the management style that matters, but how obstacles to successful strategy delivery are addressed.

These same leaders getting it right are focusing on finding pathways through the contradictions and tensions within the organisation, often balancing uncomfortable, unpopular but necessary decisions with winning hearts and minds.

This represents a fundamental shift in leadership orientation – senior managers must identify, analyse and integrate strategic thinking with organisational design and engagement. They must also have the political skills to pull together conflicting and competing agendas into a cohesive whole.

Andrew Kakabadse

By Andrew Kakabadse

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