When coaching executives, I am often requested for strategic vision planning. Most of these leaders are excited about the idea of moving forward intentionally for the betterment of the organization. And yet, many of these same executives are firmly rooted in the strategy phase. They continue to spend time developing a plan for how to achieve their goal, that they never take the steps the plan outlines. This is especially true in companies where the executives are a billable resource or else wear many hats.
So why is this? It may be that the daily grind is what keeps a business running, but it surely won't take the company to the next level. And that's the thing: leaders can often see what needs to happen to "level up", but there's a discrepancy in what they are actually doing to achieve these goals. With the frequency of this problem, a pattern has emerged, which I have identified as the five underlying causes for getting stuck in strategy:
- Lack of Trust: Are you an executive who just isn't sure if others see the vision the way you do? Sometimes things are too clear for the leader and they expect the execution of the strategy to be done to their specific process and steps, only to then decide it would just be easier if they did it themselves. It takes more time to explain and delegate, after all. This type of behavior causes the company to grow solely through the heroics of the one leader, which is simply not sustainable for either the leader or the business. Learning to bring others into your strategic ideas, letting them take shared ownership is vital to seeing your strategic vision become a reality. Often our lack of trust is not in the ability of others, but in our ability to clearly articulate what we want others to do.
- Lack of Alignment: Is your leadership team 100% aligned with your vision for the company? Or do you have a panel of differing ideas surrounding the goals of your organization? If you have a team of differing personalities, it may be difficult to get those perspectives aligned. Many strategic planning sessions end with leaders feeling that there are competing agendas. However, the issue may not be different visions but different understanding of the same vision. Consider hiring an external facilitator to partner with you and lead your team through a series of strategic visioning exercises that result in thought- and plan-alignment.
- Lack of Focus: Are you the executive that sees many areas of the business that need improvement, or many new markets, new solutions, or new client opportunities? One of the toughest things is to pick just one or two items to tackle per year, and doing them with focus and clarity. Rather than being overwhelmed with the opportunities or needs in the company, take time to choose the one (or two) areas that have the highest chance for success. Seeing one or two things completely across the finish line proves to lead to more growth than several ideas that get started but lose steam.
- Lack of Time: Are you the executive that is so busy working in the business that you are not working on the business? When leaders get stuck running the day-to-day operations of the business they often are seeing only one to two weeks or months ahead. Executives must make time for planning the future of the business. Take some alone time to process where you see the business in 2-3 years. Then, outline the steps that can be taken to reach this goal with the amount of time required for each. You may be surprised by your ability to make slow but steady progress on several of your items when you come up with a clear schedule for them. Rome wasn't built in a day, and your strategy doesn't have to be a sprint.
- Lack of Communication: Are you a senior leader with a great idea that came to you in the shower, on the commute or in a random meeting? Often ideas (even great ones) come at inopportune times to share them with others. Consider keeping an idea log in a journal or an online google doc where you can post ideas and return to them with your team in order to communicate and flesh out to move past the idea phase and into something more actionable. The first step to making a goal a reality is communicating it to your team, and discussing together what's feasible.
Overcoming these hurdles will not only help your company make progress, but will often reinvigorate your team and create a renewed sense of excitement. Strategy doesn't have to be stressful; use it for it's purpose, but don't let yourself get stuck in it.