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Ten ways to prevent a new strategy from ever being implemented.

By Ruth Tearle

When I first stated facilitating strategy workshops I was surprised by a dynamic that just didn't make sense. How a group of 30 people would participate in developing their own strategic plan and then find fault with it immediately afterwards.

I couldn't understand how this could happen after all their hard work. How could they discount the months of research they did before their strategy workshop? How could they dismiss all the work they did during the workshop? How can they find fault with their own plan? How could they say they had missed an important piece of information after they had analysed everything that could affect their organization in the future – external trends, market trends, industry trends and competitors as well as doing a comprehensive internal analysis? How could they not agree with the strategy that they developed themselves?

Now, I can predict exactly when this resistance will occur. As I end each workshop, I ask people how they feel about the strategic plan that they have just developed. Almost all of them are proud of their new strategy. They also say they are excited and energized by what they had been able to achieve as a team.

Then I say the fateful words that is guaranteed to change the mood of the group.

"What do we have to do to make this strategy work?

And suddenly all sorts of objections emerge from the group. 

  • “The strategy isn't good enough.”
  • “We didn't consider some obscure detail - therefore we need to rethink it all again."
  • “The strategy can’t be trusted.”
  • “We need to forget about the strategy we’ve developed and start again from scratch.”

At first I was taken aback. Where had the resistance come from – to a plan they had developed themselves?

What I didn’t realise then, was that I had had come face to face with the protectors of the status quo.

I began to notice that the better the quality of the strategy, the bigger and more vicious the resistance would be from the protectors of the status quo.

Strategies used to protect the status quo.

People who want to protect the status quo in an organization, use these 10 techniques to prevent a new strategy from ever being implemented.

Over the years, I've noticed a number of interesting techniques that people use to prevent their new strategy from ever being implemented.

Here are the top 10 strategies that are most commonly used by the protectors of the status quo:

1. "It’s not good enough."

The status quo protectors delight in finding something wrong with the strategy. It is usually one tiny irrelevant detail that is only vaguely related to the new strategy. But it is enough to prove to them, that the new strategy should be abandoned. For example:             

  • The plan failed to consider some research done by some one, somewhere in the world. So all the work and research we did, can no longer be trusted. We should forget about this strategy until we’ve gone through every bit of research, everywhere.
  • We tested one minor idea out of the whole strategic plan on people who have no knowledge of our organization and what we do. We asked a few people for their opinions while we waited in a queue at a shopping centre. The two people who answered us were not overly impressed with the one small element of our strategy that we shared with them. So we believe that we need to do much more research before we can commit to our new strategy.

2. "It won’t work."

  • We read an article about a company who innovates – and they ran into problems while implementing a new strategy. So it just proves it is not easy to do new things, so we shouldn’t even try.
  • We don’t have the budget to make it work. You can’t expect us to cut costs in operations and then spend money on this new strategy. It’s just not fair.

3. "This is how we’ve always done it."

  • We can’t just change everything. This is how we’ve always done it.
  • In our meetings we can't just change our agenda as we have to focus on issues that are critical to our business.
  • We can’t just work on the nice stuff that you call strategy. Someone has to do the real work in this business.

4. "You just don’t understand the business."

  • It's not as simple as you are making it out to be. You just don’t understand the complexity of our business and what it takes to run it successfully.

5. "We can play this strategy game better than you, and keep the status quo."

We are masters of the smoke and mirrors game. We can confuse and distract you into believing we are supporting the new strategy, when we are actually preventing you from implementing it. For example:

  • We will quote the new strategy to the CEO, as we continue doing what we did before – so that he believes we are on board with the new strategy.
  • When you try to suggest changes to begin implementing the new strategy, we will quote elements of the strategy to you to prove that the status quo is actually the same as the new strategy. If you continue to argue for changes, then we will act as though you are an idiot for not understanding that we have already achieved the strategy by maintaining the status quo. We are the masters of distraction and confusion!

6. "We will discredit you if you keep trying to get us to focus on the new strategy."

  • If you keep trying to implement the new strategy, we know you will stop spending as much time on the old strategy as you did before. If we just look hard enough, we will find some unimportant task that we do well but that you are no longer spending time on. It may be unimportant to achieving the new strategy, but we will still point out how you are neglecting your job to anyone who will listen. We will use this to show everyone that you are not as good as you think you are. This should reduce your credibility. Eventually no one will listen to you when you talk about implementing the new strategy.
  • During meetings we will prevent you from contributing. We may use body language – like rolling our eyes every time you try to speak. Or we may simply interrupt you. We may suggest that you don’t really understand what we are talking about. We will ensure you have limited airtime during meetings.


7. "We will distract you. We will find ways to draw your attention away from the strategy."

We will distract you and others by pointing out something wrong with you. For example we will point out a negative quality in you that cannot be proven – but will belittle you in front of anyone who is important. For example we will say:

You are too:

  • Aggressive.
  • Impatient.
  • Strong.
  • Impulsive.
  • Inconsiderate…

8. "We will isolate and marginalise you."

  • We will talk behind your back. When you approach we will change the subject. We will stop inviting you to our meetings – and if you ask, we will point out a good reason why you can no longer contribute effectively to our team.

9. "Yes... But"

  • I agree with the new strategy and what you propose to do to implement it. But there are all sorts of reasons that I can't get involved or commit myself to it. I won't tell you to your face, but behind your back I will share my objections with my colleagues.

10. "...As long as this change applies to everyone - except me."

  • As long as this change is for everyone else except me, I will endorse it publically. However privately, I will watch and wait from the sidelines and when it doesn't work, as I know it won't, I will say "I told you so."

We know that if we marginalise you and discredit you and the strategy – you will eventually lose confidence in yourself. Then, you will give up – and we’ve won the war. The war between maintaining the status quo and implementing a new strategy. Did you really think you even had a chance?

You may also like:

Tools to identify what to change to achieve a new strategy.

  • change-puzzle-kitThe change puzzle kit A systems thinking diagnostics tool. Diagnose your organization. Understand the impact of your new strategy on every element of your organization. Identify what needs to be in place to support your new strategy.
  • change-strategy-toolkitWinning the game of change Develop a change management strategy to achieve the changes you need to implement your new business strategy.

How to deal with organizational politics

  • Political games - play it your way Are you are on the losing end of a political game? Learn how to stop playing their game. Play your own game. Then change the game to suit your strengths.

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