Melbourne Business School News Why leaders can be good at setting goals, but bad at getting them delivered

Why leaders can be good at setting goals, but bad at getting them delivered

John Trevillyan from our Senior Managers Program explains why negotiation is much more than something you do over lunch.

Senior leaders know how to set strategic goals – such as increased sales targets or greater customer loyalty – but often see their ambitions thwarted because they don’t know how to engage the people they rely on to implement their objectives.


The statistics suggest that less than 50 per cent of strategic objectives are successfully implemented, and Fortune magazine reckons the true figure is as little as 10 per cent. Why is that so?

The number one reason there is such a low rate of success when it comes to implementing strategies is that many leaders lack the inability to get buy-in and support for what they are trying to achieve.

Just saying that you want something done isn’t enough. You can’t only rely on your authority to get your way as leader. You need to know how to negotiate – not like in a bazaar, where you haggle over price, but more like in a family, where who does which chores might require listening and persuading.

Here’s a breakdown of what that means in the real world. 

Ask your staff for the 'how'

As a senior leader, what you’re trying to achieve is usually not up for debate once a top-level decision has been made. The next step is how to implement the decision. How are you going to convince other people to get on board?

The people down the line from you have the knowledge and experience to see where the obstacles to success are likely to lie. You need to hear from them, and they need to hear from you. It’s time to negotiate.

Be clear about the 'why'

Whenever you go into a negotiation, it’s important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and why. People want to work in a successful organisation and contribute to its success. Be upfront and honest with them about the reason for the objective and its value to the organisation. 

It’s also important to have the right team leaders in place to implement the objective. Do the leaders you’re relying on down the line have the capacity and skills needed to deliver their part of a project? 

Distribute your leadership

Having the right team leaders in place means they can negotiate with their team members on how to achieve their part of an organisational objective. So, the leaders beneath you need to be good negotiators too.

Getting feedback from their teams will help identify where support is needed or unexpected problems might arise. 

This process of distributed leadership and negotiation down the line will improve the chances of getting buy-in across your organisation. Also, if you’re not used to leading large teams, sharing your responsibility to negotiate will help get the whole organisation on side.

Explain the mutual benefit

For any negotiation to be effective, both parties need to see a mutual gain. The why of your objective, mentioned earlier, is more about the benefit to the organisation, and indirectly its employees.

You also need look for ways to show people how your objectives will benefit them directly, perhaps by making a difficult process easier or reducing customer complaints.

Understand their point of view   

If you try to see things from another person’s point of view, you will understand their concerns and find solutions quicker. That requires asking questions and discovering the obstacles they see in the way of success.

You can only do that by creating an environment that encourages open and honest communications. If someone is struggling with your objective, they should be able to tell you, and you should be able help them overcome their problem.

John Trevillyan is the Program Director of our Senior Managers Program. He has designed programs on best practice, enterprise bargaining and negotiation for senior managers at dozens of bluechip companies.

Visit our Executive Education page to find out more about the Senior Managers Program and other options to advance your leadership career.