Leadership is a personal quality, but every leader needs to communicate a strategy to his or her organization. Strategy is a framework within which organizational decisions are made, decisions that influence the nature and direction of the organization.
. Strategy directs individuals within organizations as they make plans, marshal resources, and make day-to-day decisions. It is imperative that the strategy is clear, concise and congruent. Otherwise organizations and people can be efficiently headed the wrong way.
Organizations that lack a clear, memorable, and embraced strategy struggle to implement their plans, find their executive actions are thwarted, and their effectiveness is blunted. If you are an organizational leader — an executive or manager, or if you aspire to be one — avoid these five barriers to implementing a strategic direction.
1. Too Impractical — Many times, a strategic direction sounds good on paper but it is way too lofty. It is not practical. A direction that is not pragmatic will not move people to action. Vision is a compelling picture of a future state that inspires people to perform. Strategic direction needs to be wrapped into that vision so that it gets off of the paper, off of the posters and out into the trenches where people work. This will start the process of getting the desired results. It is the direction, not intentions, that will determine your organization’s strategic progress, and success.
2. Too Distracted — Because of the incredibly fast pace of business today, it is easy for managers and executives to become preoccupied with the immediate plans and urgent needs that are in front of them, and so lose sight of their main outcomes and objectives. Like the little Dutch boy trying to stop a flood by plugging his finger into a leaking dike, leaders can become trapped in the process of moving from one emergency to the next, and then the next, and the next. The immediacy of the next report or the next meeting keeps them from making sure that they pull back and stay focused on where they plan to go. A strong strategy provides a framework for effective decisions.
3. Too Attached — The third barrier that keeps managers and executives from implementing a strategic direction is the habit of getting overly involved doing the things they like to do, instead of the things the strategic direction calls for them to do. Think of it this way, if the strategic direction could talk, what would it be asking you to make certain you get done today?
The answer to this question will determine the decisions you make, establish the proper priorities, and clarify the next appropriate step to take. Managers and executives should be focused only on tasks no one else can do. If someone else can do that task, delegate it, monitor the outcomes, make appropriate corrections — and celebrate your progress.
4. Too Top-Heavy — There is often a lack of congruency at the top of organizations, and a matching lack of commitment from the middle levels. It is important to have buy-in from the middle. Many theories and strategies postulate that leadership starts at the top, maintaining that the values and principles that are established at the top of an organization will be propagated throughout. There is certainly some truth to that point of view. However, if there is not “buy in” at the middle level of leadership in an organization, the implementation of the direction will be thwarted and ultimately blocked.
It is important to have congruence at the top of an organization, so that the senior leaders will have a clear and unified message. Otherwise, mixed messages will be sent into the organization. When there is a commitment at the middle level of the organization, with congruency from the top, the middle levels of an organization will help propel the strategy to success.
5. Too Little Focus — The last barrier that impairs consistent implementation of an organizational strategy is simply the failure to revisit the strategy and its results on a regular and consistent basis. The consequence of this is an organization and its various individuals operating in a dense fog.
If the organization’s strategic direction is not kept front and center, the forward driving force of the implementation is forfeited. Organizations and people move toward those things that hold their attention, their focus. Without a regular focus on strategic direction, efficient and effective implementation is impeded — or it may be stopped altogether.
Strategy implementation can be a long process. To implement strategic direction, first pinpoint a clear message that is vibrant, specific and memorable. If implementation is going to be embraced and enacted, marketing your message internally to your team to facilitate buy-in from top to bottom is critical.
Second, identify tangible milestones. Have definable indicators of the targeted results for each step of implementation, and build in accountability measures for each milestone.
Third, capture memories along the way to record the progress from where you started to where you are now. Many parents periodically make a mark on a wall or door to measure and capture the progress of their children’s growth, because it’s so easy to miss both the subtle and the dramatic development of each child. In the same way, keep a memory chart of steps, setbacks, and victories for your organization’s strategic process, to remind you and your colleagues of the progress you have made. Looking back at successes brings hope as you move through the challenges of the future.
David Waits is a consultant, speaker, author, and founder of Waits Consulting Group Inc. His clients have included Quest Diagnostics, General Dynamics, Major League Baseball, Wal-Mart, and Walt Disney World, among others. He helps develop organizational environments that facilitate growth, innovation, and profitability. Visit www.DavidWaits.com.