Beer and Eisenstat: "The Silent Killers of Strategy Implementation and Learning"

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
December 2008

Sloane Management Review Summer 2000 Vol 41 Number 4 pp. 29-40

What does it take to successfully implement a strategic plan? From an employee perspective, it requires leadership, teamwork, and strategic direction. Michael Beer and Russell A. Eisenstat found this, and were able to expand it further in their profiling of 150 units in 12 companies, and a detailed analysis of 12 of those profiled units. They identified six ‘silent killers’ of strategy implementation:

  1. Either a very directive top down or a non-directive laissez-faire management style with a focus on administration rather than strategy
  2. An unclear strategy or conflicting priorities
  3. Lack of teamwork from the senior management team – rather, a focus on individual areas, protection of individual power, and little cooperation
  4. Lack of open communication and poor vertical communication – little of listening on the part of senior management, and an unwillingness by those in units below to make suggestions to upper management
  5. Poor coordination across units or functions – organizational silos
  6. Middle management not ready or without the skills to lead change

Beer and Eisenstat also provided alternatives for each of the killers.

From the ‘silent killers’ To the alternatives for successful implementation
Top-down or laissez-faire leadership Top-down direction with input and feedback from those in units below
Unclear strategy, conflicting priorities Agreement among the leadership team about priorities, and time spent sharing the strategy or priorities with those in units below
No teamwork from the management team A leadership team whose members have an organizational, not just a unit, perspective
Poor communication

Dialogue up and down through the organization

Poor coordination Organizational integration across units or functions, focusing on services or those served
Unready middle managers Managers who have had developmental opportunities and have needed skills, authority, and accountability

In summary, for successful implementation of strategies, leadership should set direction, delegate authority for specific projects, and hold implementation teams accountable.