It’s January in London. It’s cold, overcast and rainy almost every day. And besides that, at a latitude of 52 degrees North, darkness falls around 4pm, making it seem even colder. The perfect time of year for the boiler and central heating to stop working! Which is what happened at our house a few days ago. No central heating and no hot water for showers.
So, a quick call to British Gas, with whom we have a heating and boiler service contract, and the engineer knocked on the door a few hours later, ready to fix and service our heating system. The good news is, he had it cleaned, serviced and up and running in under two hours, plus he took the time to explain to me exactly how the whole system functions and even offered to help me adjust the timer system for maximum energy efficiency.
So far, a good news story in customer service! But what came next was an excellent example in strategy execution.
Some Backstory Required
In my recent book, FASTBREAK, The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, I begin by teasing out the many hidden reasons why most strategies fail to be fully delivered. In fact, many studies have pointed out that 70% of business plans and strategies fail to deliver intended results. I say hidden reasons because outside of such obvious reasons as faulty strategic assumptions or lack of adequate funding, there are numerous non-obvious strategy derailers:
- Deployment is usually an afterthought rather than an integral part of strategy formulation
- Corporate culture can be a major barrier to effective strategic execution
- Governance of strategic initiatives is notoriously lacking
- Poor teamwork at the top and “Silo Focus” leads to suboptimization
- Too many “disconnected” initiatives which increase costs and waste time
- Less than 5% of employees understand the strategic vision or strategic plan, resulting in lack of employee engagement.
When employees don’t understand or are unaware of the overall business strategy, how can they be expected to come up with ideas and opportunities to move the strategy forward? It’s like having an army of 10,000 but not giving them any guns or ammunition!
Knowledge Leads to Engagement Which Leads to Execution
So here I am standing in my hallway chatting with the British Gas call-out repair man, who is definitely not a college graduate or an engineer. Being the curious sort I ask him about the recent new developments in digital temperature control systems, and since I am a user of Apple technology products, I ask about the new Nest thermostat. We both agreed that digital is a future home technology whose time has come and we also agree that the Nest is an aesthetically beautiful and functionally designed.
But then he blew me away with his understanding of the British Gas business strategy by stating that their competing product, The Hive, is not only a home heating controller, but the beginnings of a digital controller for the home with the potential to link smart devices inside the home through one single hub. He also said that rather than buy it at the store, if I were to purchase the Hive from him, he is authorised to sell and install it for half the store price.
When I asked why the “deal”, he replied, “Actually, sir, it’s part of our company strategy to install as many as possible, not only because they are as good or better than the Nest, but because it then sets up our long-term strategy of helping you connect and manage your entire home digitally, all through our Hive hub and the new products we are developing for the smart home. Plus it fulfills our vision of helping build a sustainable business, reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases!”
What really impressed me was the more he spoke about the overall British Gas home digitization strategy, the more energised and animated he became. The strategy made sense to him, he understood the logic and the value for the customer. Here was a fully engaged employee!
When you send your employees out to deal with customers and clients without a clear understanding of company strategy, no wonder your strategy falls short. Executives don’t deliver strategy, employees do!
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels