“Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won’t win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.” – Naveen Jain

Isn’t it always interesting to read company strategy documents? Seldom do they mention people. In a universally accepted people business, rarely are the organisation’s people mentioned as the central differentiator in a sector that positions itself om “our business is our people”.

In many cases, the undoing of retail strategists is the simple oversight of the people within the organisation that do the heavy lifting, yet many remain footnotes in the asset register.

We are in the business of people, our type, style, behaviour, motivation, bias, the conditionality upon which we accept or reject, the messages we hear as distinct from what we are told… all these elements contribute and aggregate to form our business’ uniqueness.

Put another way, more than we give it credit for, one aspect of strategy is simply about understanding our people, their capability, ambition, and ability to stick to outcomes.

To elaborate on this point, consider the strategies that focus purely on product, or location. With some exceptions, these product push strategies invariably fail because they are so easily replicated and copied.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is mandatory reading for fit strategy, and among its sage advice, it simply says that to win a war we must have a great army. Again, how many strategies have we witnessed that fill in the people piece as they go along?

The first people fitness piece is to understand in great detail the capability and preparedness of the team as a vital input to the strategic implementation. Forecasting future needs in up skilling, deployment, and succession planning is critically important in the planning rather than implementation phase.

Look to the boards and senior teams that have senior HR capability with strong influence and you will see that they get this.

There is very strong evidence to show that up to 50 per cent of strategy is rolled out by the CEO and team, endorsed by the board with little or no employee involvement.

It is simply about communication and the alignment of strategy, branding, messaging through to the internal language of our business on the shop floor. The more complex the messaging, the less clarity in understanding, the greater the risk of breakdown in communicating. Simply testing understanding in communication helps the process of clarity significantly. (It’s not rocket science is it?)

Walk into a highly fit retailer and you will see clarity in communication, alignment of purpose, articulated expectations, staff feedback and above all else a culture of performance, mutual respect and winning.

These business fitness steps all have one glaring commonality, and that is the engagement of all employee stakeholders’ inputs to a successfully aligned strategy and operational implementation.

First published by Inside Retail, March 2014