Your strategy didn’t work? Again?

If your big plans don’t seem to match reality, maybe you need more human intelligence from your stakeholders

By Kristin Pardue

Did you know that 70% of corporate strategies fail to meet their objectives? I think we can agree that’s a dismal statistic. But what’s not as clear is why failure occurs — and how your company can beat the odds.

There are several reasons for this staggering rate of failure. For some organizations, strategy is an annual “set-then-forget” event. The daily urgency of running the business takes priority over laying out the operational and governance systems to deploy the strategy. Some organizations lack strategic data or the tools to analyze it, so leaders aren’t confident in making choices about the future. Others get stymied with the myriad of strategic options and uncertainty about market reactions, and thus choose more familiar options.

In my experience, however, the most common reason for strategic failure is also the most addressable one: not gathering input from key stakeholders like consumers, partners and team members.

I have found that strategy development must be human-centered and inclusive in order to be successful. This requires strategists to exhibit both technical acumen and empathy — not an easy feat. But the results are worth it.

Done correctly, your team will be able to co-create solutions that are steeped with human insights. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend adding these ideas to your strategy playbook.

Getting everyone’s buy-in doesn’t mean scheduling mandatory brainstorming sessions for your entire staff. In fact, relying solely on brainstorming to generate ideas and solve problems can create organizational fatigue. Instead, try structured ideation in your strategy sessions. Here are a couple ideas to get you started.

First, create a set of conversations that you want to have with your organization based on strategic challenges or opportunities. You can use design language, like “How Might We” prompts, to frame each question. For example, “How might we improve our check-out experience?”

Second, develop hypotheses about what you believe are the appropriate choices to make. Figure out what would need to be true for those choices to become reality, then go out and test the hypotheses. If you can, invite your customers to join this conversation.

I like to have everyone’s fingerprints on the strategy. It’s as simple as inviting those on your front lines to join the strategy planning process.

For example, our firm recently partnered with a major financial services company to make it easier for their agents to generate sales. Instead of hosting strategy sessions in the boardroom with a handful of company leaders, we invited agents to share their insights with client team members. These field interviews made it much easier to identify pain points and opportunities.

This human-centered approach helped us quickly prototype and de-risk strategy development. It also gave the company permission to co-create with their people and welcome ideas from all levels of the organization.

Bringing your entire team to the table is an important step, but it’s not enough. Be sure to take your customer’s voice into account as well.

We’ve worked with several Fortune 500 companies to help them become more customer-centric. Together we’ve learned that traditional market research can only take you so far. The natural next step is to conduct ethnographic research out in the field.

For example, take Target CEO Brian Cornell. He recently visited customers’ homes without revealing his identity in order to learn more about their needs and opinions. So, sit with your team members in the call center, go on sales calls with your sales people or observe your clients buying and using your products or services. Better yet, talk to customers directly about your strategy — you’d be surprised at how much they want to share with you.

Strategies don’t have to be flawless. Instead of aiming for perfection, think of strategy as a set of choices that can change at any time based on new information. Getting that information is as simple — and as difficult — as tapping into the collective wisdom of your staff and customers. Once you design your processes to do that, you’ll be on the right path.


Kristin Pardue is the co-founder and CEO of Rêve Consulting, a strategy and service design consultancy. Previously, Kristin held executive leadership roles at General Mills, GE and Carlson Hotels Worldwide. She is also the co-founder of Rêve Academy, a digital out-of-school program that offers pathways to digital careers to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.