How to Address Complexity and Excessive Expansion in Strategic Initiatives

Building executive initiatives is considered one of the most important steps in strategic planning. This step requires more effort and time than any other task in the process. Since the strategy is transformed into reality through the implementation of these initiatives, the proposed initiatives undergo a meticulous evaluation process to ensure their suitability in achieving the desired strategic purpose. However, as it is often said, what appears great on paper does not always translate into a beautiful reality.

Many times, an organization may have outstanding initiatives, but they stumble in their implementation due to several reasons, including the abundance of initiatives, complexity, and excessive expansion of tasks within some of these initiatives, making their execution difficult or incompatible with the available time of the implementing employees. The initiatives that were supposed to develop and improve the work become merely an additional burden and another problem added to the existing issues in the organization.

Initiatives are usually proposed and approved by the management leadership within the organization, while the execution is carried out by supervisors and employees at the lower levels of the organization. Some leaders believe that having numerous initiatives and incorporating many tasks within a single initiative guarantees the achievement of strategic objectives. Sometimes excessive optimism drives them to set unrealistic goals and excessively complex tasks without considering the time, effort, and focus required from the implementing employees. As always, no plan survives collision with reality! When the implementation of initiatives is assigned to employees, a significant disruption occurs due to the mismatch between their time and capabilities and those required for execution. The work becomes a battlefield where the implementation of strategic initiatives clashes with performing routine tasks. The workload, in addition to the conflicting time and skills between implementing initiatives and routine work, may result in the complete halt of some initiatives or repeated pauses to meet the urgent priorities of routine tasks, or employees’ neglect of tasks that have no accountability, which is not in the best interest of the organization, in addition to the complete or frequent halting of initiatives, negatively impacts motivation, enthusiasm, and the momentum that arose at the beginning of strategy implementation. This situation can be likened to a congested road where cars move very slowly and come to a complete stop from time to time.

To avoid the disruption and halting of initiatives due to their abundance, complexity, and task expansion, leaders need to be realistic and flexible when building and approving initiative proposals. They should reduce excessive optimism and the belief that anything is achievable. They must understand that some tasks within initiatives may already be good but require dedicated resources, time, effort, and full commitment from employees. Before assigning initiatives to employees, their capabilities, available time, and barriers should be evaluated and compared to the requirements for execution. Initiatives should be implemented sequentially and in a coordinated manner, whenever possible, to avoid burdening employees. Referring back to the example of a congested road, a practical solution to the problem would be to keep some cars off the road (limiting initiatives) or encourage people to use public transportation (consolidating initiatives). Another approach could involve scheduling road usage (starting initiatives only when resources and time are available) or constructing a wider highway (increasing the number of implementing employees and expanding execution operations).

To coordinate the implementation of initiatives, we recommend following the following steps to ensure that the quality of execution is not compromised for the sake of workload in initiatives:

  1. Identify success indicators for each initiative and focus solely on tasks that significantly contribute to moving the indicator needle.
  2. Listen to employees’ opinions during the proposal and approval stages of initiatives and consider their input. This is one of the key factors for successful initiative implementation.
  3. Simplify activities and tasks within executive initiatives to streamline their execution as much as possible, to ensure they do not become obstacles during implementation and gain acceptance from employees at the lower levels of the organization, initiatives should be designed to be executed alongside routine tasks.
  4. Many problems stem from a single root cause. If initiatives were developed to address root causes, we would have fewer initiatives that could solve many problems.
  5. Arrange meetings between initiative owners to discuss the purpose of their initiatives, the timeframe for each initiative, start and end dates, and identify any overlaps or shared resources between initiatives to consolidate them whenever possible.
  6. Identify the required resources and time for each initiative and compare them to the resources and time available to employees, to identify any gaps or potential conflicts with routine tasks.
  7. Arrange and schedule start and end dates for each initiative based on their expected benefits and considering other planned activities and resource availability.
  8. Identify the potential impacts of planned initiatives on routine tasks and coordinate their execution to minimize any negative effects.
  9. Establish a mechanism for executing complex tasks within initiatives as efficiently as possible, without wasting time, to prevent their abandonment or execution delays and the resulting negative impact on other initiatives and routine tasks.
  10. Finally, and most importantly, understand that strategic planning is not a one-time event. In today’s rapidly changing world, we need to review initiatives and other components of the strategy annually or whenever circumstances change, and update the strategy based on the results of these reviews.
Dr. Nasreddin Dhafr
Strategy and Business Excellence Consultant
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