Brain power

Why strategies might not be acted upon

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

One of the key challenges for leaders attempting to deliver on a new strategy is to ensure that it’s not only communicated effectively, but acted upon throughout the organization. Research1 from the University of Vaasa suggests that a key problem is that many employees don’t feel like they’re supported by their organization, which in turn undermines their support for any change initiatives.

“A strategy is meaningful only when implemented. Every manager knows how difficult it is to ensure that every person in the company understands the strategic goals and behaves strategically, helping the corporate vision to become reality. Top management tends to think that performance-driven culture and strong focus on assigned targets will lead to implementation success,” the researcher says.

Knowing and doing

The research set out to explore when strategic plans become strategic behaviors among employees in a Finnish multinational.  The analysis reveals that many managers and experts in non-managerial positions struggle to relate to the strategic plans of the organization, even when the communication of those plans is strong.

“Research revealed that employees may behave strategically without prescriptions, or even without knowing details in the strategy, if certain conditions are met. It is equally important to make good strategies, set clear goals and communicate them, as it is crucial to uncover personal aspirations and needs of the employees, and to create a feeling that the organization will help people achieve these personal commitments,” the author says.

While the research was conducted within a Finnish company, the organization had units in Russia and India too, which allowed for a degree of national comparison to be undertaken.  The analysis revealed that Finland had the weakest sense of reciprocity, with both Russian and Indian employees exhibiting reciprocity in different ways.

For instance, among Indian employees there was a sense of devotion, but it tended to be towards the business leader rather than the organization.  If they believe the leader would take care of them then they would devote themselves to the strategy.

In Russia, reciprocity took on a more bureaucratic bent, with employees keen to know that managers would ensure that their daily tasks were related to the general strategy of the business.

A multi-faceted approach

The author believes that their findings underline the importance of understanding the multi-faceted nature of reciprocity across an organization to ensure that strategy is acted upon.  This can be especially important in multi-national businesses where cultural factors come into play.

It’s also important for senior leaders to conduct widescale conversations to understand whether strategy implementation has been successful or not.  This helps to overcome mistaken assumptions that there is a single “truth” about the strategy of the organization.

“It is rarely considered or remembered that the organizational systems, process descriptions, or policies are only managerial intentions described ‘on paper’. Frequently, it is assumed that once we design those structures and policies, they should and will be followed as expected. When people do not fulfill such expectations, it is normally considered that the implementation failed,” the researcher says.

Article source: Why Strategies Might Not Be Acted Upon.


  1. Šilenskytė, A. (2020). Corporate strategy implementation: how strategic plans become individual strategic actions across organizational levels of the MNC. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Management, University of Vaasa.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.
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