Five Barriers to Implementing Strategic Direction
by David Waits
Waits Consulting Group, Inc.
Strategy is a framework within which decisions are made, which influences the nature and direction of the business. Strategy directs organizations as they make plans, marshal resources and make day-to-day decisions. It is imperative that strategy is clear, concise and congruent. Otherwise, organizations and people can be efficiently headed the wrong way. Companies lacking a clear, memorable, embraced strategy struggle with implementation, thwart tactical execution and blunt their effectiveness. Take prudence to avoid these five barriers to implementing strategic direction.
Head in the Clouds
Barrier 1: Strategy that is too lofty and non-pragmatic
Many times, the strategic direction sounds good on paper, but it is way too lofty. It is not pragmatic. 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 determines your organization’s ultimate destiny.
Now, Now, Now
Barrier 2: Overly focused on immediacy
Because of the incredibly fast pace of business in today’s world, it is easy for leaders to get preoccupied with the immediate and urgent things that are in front of them and lose sight of their main outcomes and objectives. Like the story of the little boy trying to put his finger in the dike, leaders can get caught up in moving from one emergency to the next, to the next, to the next. The immediacy of the next report or the next meeting keeps leaders from making sure that they pull back and stay focused on where they want to go. A strong strategy provides the framework for effective decisions.
But, I Like It...
Barrier 3: Doing what we like to do
The third barrier that keeps leaders from implementing strategic direction is the trap of getting wrapped up in doing the things leaders like to do instead of the things the strategic direction is calling for. Think of it this way, if the strategic direction could talk, what would it be asking to be done today? The answer to this question will determine decisions, establish proper priorities and clarify the next appropriate step to take. Leaders only should be focused on tasks no one else can do. If someone else can do the task, delegate it, monitor the outcomes, make appropriate corrections and celebrate progress.
Barrier 4: Lack of congruency at the top and commitment from the middle
It is important to have buy-in from the middle. Many postulate that leadership starts at the top, maintaining that what is at the top is what filters down. There certainly is truth contained in that axiom. However, if there is not buy-in at the middle level of leadership, the implementation of the direction will be thwarted and, ultimately, blocked. It is important to have congruence at the top, so as a senior leadership group, there is a clarion message that is common to all top leaders. Otherwise, there will be mixed messages being sent. When there is a commitment at the middle level with congruency from the top, the lower level of leadership will help catapult strategy into success.
The Blinding Fog
Barrier 5: Not reviewing often enough
The last barrier that impairs consistent implementation is caused simply by not revisiting the strategy consistently. The consequence of this lack of continual review results in a loss of focus creating the calamity of operating in a dense fog. If strategic direction is not kept front and center, the forward driving force of the implementation is forfeited. Organizations and people move toward what they are focused on. Without this regular focus on strategic direction, efficient and effective implementation is impeded, if not stopped altogether.
Strategy implementation can be a long process. To implement strategic direction, first pinpoint clear messaging that is vibrant, specific and memorable. If implementation is going to be embraced and enacted, marketing the message internally to the team to facilitate buy-in from top to bottom is a critical necessity. Second, identify tangible milestones. Have definable indicators of the targeted results of each step of implementation and build in accountability measures for each milestone.
Third, capture memories along the way to record the progress from where the strategy started to where it is now. Many parents periodically make a mark on a chart or behind a door, capturing the growth history of their children 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, set-backs and victories throughout the process as a reminder of the progress made. Looking back at successes brings hope as companies move through the challenges of the future.