Why do some organisations fail to successfully adopt Hoshin, and what are the key lessons to be learnt?

By Paul Docherty on 11 Jul, 2022 | 8 mins read

Why do some organisations fail to successfully adopt Hoshin, and what are the key lessons to be learnt?

Deploying Strategy is a challenge – even when using a proven method like Hoshin

Successfully deploying and implementing Strategy in any organisation is a challenge, and one that many organisations struggle with.  

The probability of successfully deploying and executing the Strategy to achieve the desired results is incrementally improved through adopting a structured, systematic and repeatable process. One of the most successful and robust methods has proven to be Hoshin Kanri, or Hoshin Planning – a technique that originated in Japan in the 1960’s, and has been widely adopted by global leading organisations such as Danaher, Toyota and 3M to consistently outperform their competition.

Hoshin Kanri is a systematic and disciplined process to align, communicate and execute strategy by focusing on the vital few breakthrough objectives that give you competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, merely making the decision to improve your Strategy Deployment and Implementation processes through adopting Hoshin is not a guarantee of success.   

Research and personal experience reveal that from the many organisations that try to improve their Strategy Implementation processes through adopting Hoshin, only about 1 in 5 are successful in moving from pilot to a strong adoption of the method on a wider basis within a short timescale of 2 years (beyond which most organisations may not be willing to persevere if not seeing significant benefits).

Whilst it is encouraging to see that about 20% of these organisations have successfully adopted Hoshin to deploy their strategies, there are lessons that can be learned from looking at some of the reasons why the other organisations have not replicated this rapid success.

Approximately another 40% indicated that they were still in the piloting or roll-out of Hoshin – showing that they still saw benefit in applying the Hoshin methods to improve their Strategy Deployment processes, although hadn’t seen the same rapid adoption rate.

Of more concern is the third of organisations that have abandoned the use of the Hoshin process altogether.

Given that this status was taken at the end of the second year since started or piloted, this indicates that there must be some key success criteria that helps to ensure a rapid implementation and sustainability in approach.

What are the main factors in failing to successfully apply & adopt Hoshin?

When drilling into the responses from the 2 out of 3 organisations that hadn’t developed past the pilot stage within the two years (34% abandoned + 27% still piloting), the main reasons given were:

  • The overhead of applying the method was considered to be greater than the benefits realised (35%);

  • Lack of discipline to apply / follow up the Hoshin process (20%);

  • Did not apply the “catch ball” or Counter Measures techniques correctly, meaning that the plan was considered to be unrealistic (10%);

  • A major change (leadership or M&A) resulting in abandoning Hoshin (5%);

  • Failed to give the Strategy Implementation sufficient time or priority due to operational pressures (15%).

If we discount the one organisation where change of leadership / M&A resulted in the abandoning of the Hoshin approach, the other reasons provide all point to failures in HOW the Hoshin approach had been applied.

A lack of discipline & focus to ensure the appropriate attention and priority has been given to progressing with the execution and review of the Strategy;  being side-tracked and consumed by the “urgent” v the “important” meaning that focused moved away from the execution of the Strategy; and the failure to apply some of the key aspects of Hoshin correctly, all seem to be some of the key contributors to the failure to successfully adopt the Hoshin method beyond the initial pilot.

The key principle that can be taken from looking at both how successful organisations benefit from applying Hoshin, and the main factors and reasons given by organisations that have failed to successful adopt Hoshin is:

Whilst Hoshin is a well proven method for successfully Deploying & Implementing Strategy, being successful in adopting & using Hoshin takes discipline, focus and a good understanding of HOW to successfully deploy using Hoshin

When applying Hoshin to strengthen and improve our Strategy Deployment & Implementation processes, we can improve our chances of success by learning these important lessons from others’ challenges.  

Successful adoption of Hoshin requires more than learning a few key tools and approaches, it requires a much wider and more encompassing approach to address HOW to deploy Hoshin, and also some knowledge of what key challenges and barriers need to be overcome in order for the approach to be both successful and sustainable.

What are the main barriers to successfully apply & adopt Hoshin?

Reviewing a recent LinkedIn survey asking “What is the number one barrier to effective Hoshin Planning?”, the results seem to support the main factors preventing successful adoption of Hoshin beyond the initial pilot:

The main barrier stated (40% of responses) that the cultural change required by the Hoshin Planning approach was the number one barrier to success. Given that Hoshin Kanri is a systematic and disciplined process, which requires regular reviews of progress to ensure that the execution of key actions remains on track AND delivers the required change and breakthrough results, it comes as little surprise that significant effort is needed to support the behavioural and cultural changes required to adopt and embrace any new approach or process.

The next highest stated reason (at 29%) was the lack of knowledge or experience of using Hoshin.  As for any new approach, much of the “learning is gained through doing” – nothing beats experience when it comes to applying a new structured approach, and being successful in engaging with the organisation at all levels to apply Hoshin often comes from the painful learning attained through challenges and failures – and learning how to overcome these hurdles.  

The third barrier of failing to balance the urgent v important activities (20% responses) seems to directly link with the stated factors for failing to adopt Hoshin of the lack of discipline, and the failure to give the Strategy Implementation sufficient time or priority due to operational pressures.  Given the ever constant pressure of operational issues, the day to day “whirlwind” and the need to deal with urgent issues (dare we say, “firefighting”?) means that leaders commonly fail to invest and commit sufficient time and focus on the important Strategic actions needed.

What are the key Lessons Learned to help your successful adoption of Hoshin?

The three key Lessons Learned to help enable a successfully adoption of Hoshin to strengthen Strategy Deployment and Implementation are:

  1. Culture is effected by the behaviours of the Leaders in the organisation – and their behaviours in adopting the Hoshin approach needs to be supported and coached. A strong and experienced facilitator, using a proven and structured method & approach are key success factors in helping leaders to adopt the right behaviours;

  2. Leaders attention and focus easily shifts from the “important” to the “urgent” – discipline and focus is needed to ensure that there is a separation from the Operational issues and the Strategic Change initiatives needed for the longer term successes. The Strategy Execution part of the Hoshin process (consisting of a critical set of structured reviews and behaviours) needs structure, discipline and focus in order to ensure the shift from Strategy Planning to Strategy Execution;

  3. The application of the Hoshin approach and tools needs to be done well in order to deliver and engaging experience perceived as being worthwhile, and to deliver the required changes in behaviours and results. Applying Hoshin well demands experience, knowledge and support.

Success is achievable, and adopting Hoshin well is proven to deliver breakthrough results.  However, successful adoption of Hoshin needs an investment of effort, change, structure and a disciplined approach.

  • One of the strongest influencing factors in Leadership behaviour is the demonstrated delivery of results – a clear, well prioritised and focused plan, delivered well, will help enable the successful delivery of results. Hoshin provides the structured approach that covers Strategy Deployment and Strategy Execution – giving a clear process that once understood, can enable breakthrough results;

  • Leadership behaviours can be influenced through following a clear and structured process, and in developing their understanding of their roles in each part of the process. Clear facilitation and coaching through this process will help transfer knowledge and embed the right behaviours.

  • Strong facilitation and a clearly structured process can help to maintain focus on the “important”, and help to ensure successful execution against the Strategic priorities;

  • Expert support will help the initial piloting and scaling steps in applying Hoshin, but to scale and sustain, internal capabilities need to be developed and enabled to facilitate and coach Leaders across the organisation.

Breakthrough Partners – Supporting Every Step of your Strategy Implementation

At Breakthrough Partners, we have significant expertise gained from helping many organisations overcome these commonly experienced significant challenges to successfully applying Hoshin. Through working with our clients, understanding their particular challenges and cultures, and ensuring that Hoshin works for them, we are able to help them overcome the barriers and resistance to applying a new method to their organisations.

We have a track record in ensuring that our clients application of Hoshin for their Strategy Implementation is scalable and sustainable, through supporting and enabling their leadership and teams, and developing their knowledge and capabilities to successfully use Hoshin for their Strategy Implementations.

If you would like to learn more, or discuss how Breakthrough Partners can help you on your Strategy Implementation journey, please contact us for an initial conversation.

Paul Docherty

Paul Docherty
Paul Docherty is a widely recognised expert in Strategy Execution. He has personally guided leadership teams in many global organisations including Nokia, Wesco and Ericsson to implement Hoshin planning. As the founder of the Strategy Execution Consortium Paul has also benchmarked Hoshin best practices across 30 of the top 50 Hoshin adopters.