Why 76% of Strategies fail. How to do it successfully

Strategic Managers know that 76% of strategies fail to produce the benefits promised and most fail during the implementation phase. This is extremely costly both in terms of time and money wasted on the current strategy but also costly because failure this time makes it harder to achieve success next time.

You see Strategy is usually an intellectual exercise that’s done by only the top people in the organisation. Both of these practices are a problem.

An intellectual exercise?

Many managers see strategy as an intellectual exercise. They put 80% of their effort in to logic and costs and features. They should put 80% of their effort into emotions, feelings, trust and security. The 18 Inches from the head to the heart is a long journey. Until this unconscious level is addressed nothing will change.  It’s like an iceberg; we tend to address the bit that is most visible forgetting that so much lies unseen below the waterline.


Only the top people?

Even the best managers have problems going from planning to doing. Recently, different CEOs, all of whom I would rate as some of the best, have made the following statements to me. Do any of these statements ring true to you?

  • ‘We know what we need to do, but we don’t seem to be able to make it happen.’
  • ‘We need to put some rubber on the road.’
  • ‘It is not that people don’t want to do it, they just don’t know how.’

Part of the reason these problems exist is because strategy processes are restricted to the most senior people in the organisation, whereas it’s the frontline who have to implement the strategies; and they don’t understand them let alone care about them. Implementation is the result of thousands of decisions made every day by employees who want to do their best but often don’t know what the strategy really means.

Of course the Tops understand and care; they have spend days thinking and arguing about the strategies; but the frontline haven’t and so they don’t care. 

It’s a process

Some managers think they can get around this by doing a one-hit “roadshow”. They proudly tell me: “I’ve been to every branch in the country and presented the strategy. Everyone knows about it!” This is a nonsense, there’s no way you can tell someone about a strategy; it takes a process which has as much to do with building trust and confidence as agreeing strategies.

So wise managers find ways to involve the frontline right through the process including, the decision about what to do and why we’re doing it. As a minimum managers need to find ways to involve these people in thinking deeply about how they will make the strategy work. 

There are real benefits in involving frontline right through the process. It often adds to the quality of the strategy because in my experience the ability to think strategically is widely spread throughout the organisation and has little to do with where people sit on the organisation chart. Also, the strategies end up being grounded in the real world and more highly practical than otherwise. And most importantly, it adds meaning to the work and increases levels of energy at the frontline. 

You want me to involve everyone?


I first trialed the 100% solution when I was Group Strategy Manager at the Bank of New Zealand. It was 1989, just after the recession, and the Bank was in a bad way. Everyone said the recovery would take 10 years; however, by involving all 6,500 people over 350 branches the recovery was achieved in just over two years.

Since then we have run dozens of processes that involve everyone. Depending on the levels of trust and communication they usually involve several half-day workshops of up to 100 people at each workshop. This approach may take a little longer in the short-term, but in the long-term the time is significantly shorter.

Want more information?

This video will give you far more detail.

Bruce Holland was the Group Strategic Manager at the Bank of New Zealand before becoming a consultant. In 1992 he formed Virtual Group and works with many organisations helping their strategic processes.