Is Your Strategy Clear Enough? Probably not…

Separate letters spelling "strategy" are pinned to a bulletin board

How can your organization succeed without a clear and meaningful direction? And yet 49% of executives recently surveyed by Booz & Company said their companies have no list of strategic priorities.

Many high-growth executive teams are moving too quickly to create and clearly articulate a solid corporate strategy.  Some say they don’t have the time; others think their strategy is already clear.  But when you ask employees, organizational ambiguity reigns.  Unfortunately the lack of strategic clarity not only hampers short-term performance but also long-term organizational health.

Effective strategies provide crystal clear reasoning why the company does what it does and how specific actions should lead to superior performance. A rudderless company drifts with the wind.  It does not:

  • outperform its competition over time
  • provide the foundation to create a high performance culture
  • attract, engage, or retain top talent over time.

Based upon high performance research, we know that the overall goals must be simple, meaningful, and just possible.  In other words, it must be an achievable challenge worth fighting for. Then, the strategies to achieve those objectives must include a plan of action and be supported by a well-articulated rationale.  Otherwise, you run the risk of having aspirations without a winning game plan.

A good strategy guides the undertakings of the organization, provides rationales for resource allocation, and sharpens decision-making at every level. A bad strategy creates ambiguity and opens the door to politics, bad choices, and lower performance.

Here are seven warning signs of strategic ambiguity. If you observe any of the following in your organization, it is time to increase your strategic clarity:

  1. Too Many Priorities: Fundamentally, strategy is about making choices and focusing on areas with the greatest leverage. If your strategy contains more than 5 major priorities, trim the list to stop your people from being stretched too thin and reduce the competition for limited resources with conflicting goals.
  2. Shifting Priorities: Priorities that shift frequently based upon reactions to outside or emergent events typically lack a solid direction as guidance. Without a true North, it is easy to fall prey to the urgent instead of the important or the “shiny object” or the loudest voice. While priorities will evolve as you prototype and learn, it is not effective to constantly change the game.
  3. Relationships Rule: When goals are vague, “who you know” can become more important than “what you do.” Ambiguity can play out in power plays, turf battles, and deceptions that hinder progress. Strategic clarity and performance accountability is a great panacea for an overly political culture.
  4. Lack of Accountability: Uncertain strategies provide cover for under- and average performers to hide. Without clear direction, it is difficult to identify and take action against sub-standard performance.  When this occurs, “A” players look for better opportunities where their contributions will be more appreciated and better rewarded.
  5. Lack of Collaboration: If your teams are not effectively and consistently working together, they are probably having trouble distinguishing between priorities and strategic imperatives. Unclear goals and roles are the root cause of most internal clashes.
  1. People Consistently Ask for More Clarifying Information before They Act: Often lower-level employees just do not get it. Successful implementation requires employees to not only clearly understand the company’s business strategy but also how their work directly contributes to that strategy.
  2. Leadership Problems: Many sound strategies fail because leaders fail to provide the direction and sponsorship required for success. Some may be afraid to speak honestly and openly about potential obstacles and concerns.  This can cause people to lose faith not only in the strategy, but in their leaders. To truly lead, executives must listen, guide and reinforce all the way to the finish line.

Creating a strategy is the first step.  Executing it is another step.  To effectively move from creation to implementation, make sure that your strategy is clear, compelling and understood. You will know that you are headed in the right direction in terms of clarity when your strategy:

  • Can be conveyed and understood on one page
  • Guides your leadership team and their direct reports in making day-to-day operating decisions
  • Is clearly understood by all employees – especially how their work directly contributes to success
  • Does not get derailed or steamrolled in times of crisis
  • Is constructively and openly discussed, refined, measured, and evolved
  • Is being implemented consistently across the company
  • Is a source of motivation and focus for your employees

Until then, you have mission critical work to do.  To learn more about creating strategic clarity in your organization or team, please go to: http://lsaglobal.com/what-we-do/#strategic-clarity

 

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