Ignoring Implementers of Strategic Decisions – Why It’s Risky and How to Fix It

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

We’ve all heard this idiom that first appeared in Thomas Reid’s “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” published in 1786. The phrase is commonly used to describe organizations or groups and how they are only as strong as the weakest or laziest member.

By extension, this idiom is especially true when it comes to strategic decisions and corporate strategy.

While there can be dozens or even hundreds of possibilities, a common “weak link” many organizations struggle with is when decision-makers do NOT involve implementers when making strategic decisions.

Executives and planning personnel develop a corporate strategy, and everything looks great – on paper.

However, what happens too often is these same people responsible for making these decisions fail to consult with the people who will be responsible for implementing the plans. This, of course, creates additional risks to the successful achievement of the organization’s goals.

Examples of these additional risks include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Resources/people are not available because of previous commitments.
  • Unknown dependencies require initiatives to take a pause to wait for something to be done.
  • A change in approach is needed once additional details come to light after the initiative is underway.
  • Price or costs are higher than initially planned (i.e., it’s later determined new or updated software or specialized skills are needed).

At worst, not involving implementers in strategic decisions can end up putting other initiatives and even the entire organization’s success in jeopardy.

Now I don’t want to imply that executives and other leaders can’t have ideas and pursue them. After all, this is what they do, but sometimes in their zeal, they can neglect to take important steps needed to ensure their efforts ultimately succeed.

It may be impractical or impossible to bring implementers in before decisions are made, and an execution strategy is developed. If this is the case, time will need to be factored into that execution strategy to allow implementers the opportunity to gather information and ask questions before taking action.

If executives are not consulting with implementers, you as the risk professional will need to prepare for what might happen. But…

The best way to mitigate risks to the implementation of goals is to encourage executives to make themselves available to implementers during the planning process.

I’ve said it a lot lately, but it bears repeating…uncertainty is getting more intense with each passing day. There are all sorts of risks and uncertainties that can put the kibosh on goals and initiatives. As risk professionals, it’s our job to understand both risks and opportunities and provide management with actionable information and recommendations for making informed decisions.

One way to do this is to encourage executives to make themselves available to those who will be responsible for carrying out the initiatives, allowing the implementers to ask questions and air concerns.

Doing so before any final decisions are made will make decisions stronger and implementation smoother because, as discussed in the book Decision Quality: Value Creation from Better Business Decisions, it allows the implementers to:

  • Suggest new alternatives,
  • Provide insights and information from their unique perspective,
  • Help gather information,
  • Evaluate feasibility and identify potential execution failures, and
  • Explore and share their perspectives about the decision’s value drivers, thereby preparing to make value-driven decisions during implementation.

In addition to providing additional perspective and information to ensure the best decision possible, implementers need to also understand:

  • Why the decision is important,
  • Why executives chose the course of action that they did,
  • How the decision will benefit the organization,
  • What tradeoffs can be made during implementation, and
  • What executives expect as a desired outcome from the initiative.

Now this may seem like good enough reasons for executives to begin involving implementers in their decisions if they’re not doing so already, but there’s an additional benefit to convey to executives – improved employee morale.

More and more workers, especially from the “millennial” generation (born roughly between 1982-2000), indicate that salary or benefits is not the primary motivator of their happiness at work. For example, 80% of millennials say that a company culture that emphasizes personal growth is highly important according to this report.

Involving implementers not only improves strategic decisions; it also gives employees a sense of ownership and thus stronger commitment to action and increased morale, or as Decision Quality explains:

Organizations and business scholars have long puzzled over how to incentivize this sense of ownership, which is central to building commitment to action. Stock ownership plans, performance-based pay, and related schemes have all been tried. These have merit, but in the end, monetary rewards matter less to individuals than participating in the decisions that they are asked to implement. Participation engenders a sense of ownership that results in commitment and effectiveness during implementation.

In the long run, commitment to action and improved morale are probably a more important reason than mitigating risks to initiatives as a reason for including implementers in strategic decision-making.

Taking the time to understand implementers concerns and answer their questions will undoubtedly strengthen this weak link that can so easily derail plans and put the company at risk of failure.

If your executives are not speaking with implementers during the planning process, what justification(s) could you provide to get them to change course?

As always, other readers and I are interested in learning more on what other practitioners are doing in these circumstances. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If your company is struggling to meet goals due to poor decision-making and implementation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss your company’s specific situation and potential options for addressing these challenges.

Featured image courtesy of Joey Kyber via

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This blog was launched to provide strategy and risk practitioners with a go-to resource to better guide their efforts within their companies. Thank you for bringing me and my team along to be part of your journey towards better risk management, strategic planning and execution, and overall decision-making. Happy reading!

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