When it’s time to implement a new strategy, Harvard Business School professor Michael Beer urges leaders to confront publicly the unvarnished truth about the barriers blocking strategy implementation. Typically, this involves looking closely at the roles and decision rights of various parts of your company, and changing the behavior of people at all levels. Public, organization-wide conversations about such fundamental issues are difficult and painful, Beer says, but necessary. Conversations about strategy need to move back and forth between advocacy and inquiry. Most failures in organizations start when top management advocates a new direction and develops programs for change without finding out what influential people in other parts of the organization think of the new focus. Eventually, the new initiatives are blindsided by concerns that emerge much later. A few well-intentioned top managers make the opposite mistake; they don’t advocate at all, but depend entirely on inquiry. They assemble a large group of managers and ask them to define a direction. The result is often widespread frustration. Beer insists that managers and employees depend on leaders to articulate a point of view about where the business is going, a point of view to which they can respond. Leaders need to advocate, then inquire— and repeat as needed.

HBS Working Knowledge 9 Feb 2004