What Prevents You from Becoming More Strategic?

Train-LightIn today’s rapidly changing business environment, all members of the organization need a broad perspective and an awareness of the developments shaping their work.

Yet, managers and individual contributors alike frequently resist the call to be more strategic and they fail to prepare for the long-term or position themselves for success in the future.

Many feel over-run with seemingly insurmountable challenges when faced with the need to be more strategic.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest dilemmas encountered by people in every level of an organization. How many of these challenges are preventing you from being a strategic force at work?

So much to do, so little time to do it.

One of the biggest dilemmas people face when attempting to include strategy into their daily approach is that most organizations are very lean and do not have a lot of bench strength. Therefore, fewer people are taking on a greater number of operational tasks.  This naturally leads to serious time and pressure issues for everyone. Many projects, especially strategic projects, are not given the same priority as routine everyday tasks, which are needed to keep the lights on.  Saying no, drawing a line, being assertive, and protecting and respecting your strategy space can be very challenging.

Are we working my plan or yours?

Many people are caught between competing plans and strategies across departments and functions. This disconnect makes it difficult to prioritize and accomplish anything. It may even create internal political battles.  These issues distract people and create interference in strategic work.

In addition, some individuals say that it is hard to create strategy because they cannot see the overarching strategy or direction of the business. This knowledge gap presents real challenges.  However, if people are willing, it is possible to decipher critical signals. Sometimes a signal is weak, but it suggests where the organization is going, what‘s important, and what you should focus your strategy on in order to link and align with the firm.

Was strategy in my job description?

This attitude can be very daunting.  It deals with a person’s fundamental style and personality.  Many people at the core of a business tend to be doers rather than shapers. They prefer familiar, routine activities that are predictable, producing an immediate sense of achievement. They are perfectly satisfied with working in the moment and don’t look ahead or think about future opportunities. Because these short term activities can be easily measured, people are often reinforced for their short term focus.

Another fundamental dilemma many people have is they like to do what they like to do.  They like to do what gets rewarded; they like to do what gets them recognized.  The big questions we have to ask are these: Will strategy do that for them?  Will strategy bring rewards and recognition?  Is being strategic minded something that people fundamentally like to do?

Things are going okay the way they are.

Real strategy requires some fundamental risk taking and as with any risk taking, there is a chance of failure. Failure, in business and in life, can be very uncomfortable and painful.  Risk also creates constructive tension. Unless you are willing to accept potential failure and constructive tension, it’s difficult to move into the strategic space.  A new strategy often requires redistributing or accessing materials, energy, time, labor, and funding in order to make a difference at a strategic level. Identifying and utilizing these resources for a strategic endeavor is a risk, but highly important if the organization is going to become or remain competitive in the market place.

Frequently, because strategy is not part of a day-to-day plan, strategy becomes purely responsive. People create strategy in response to a change in customer strategy rather than trying to anticipate the need.   True and effective strategy is forward-thinking, not reactive. Being strategic must become part of the normal routine. It’s not just about finding best practices. Best practices are great, important, and we need them all; however, we have  to be looking for the next practices, the next wave, the next big thing in processes, products, and  new concepts at all levels of the organization.  Everyone is a solution to someone’s problem.

Take the plunge into strategic thinking, find strategic and innovative solutions, and think ahead of the curve. Confront and challenge the dilemmas that are holding you back from being a strategic thinking and help the organization find ways to sustain and grow into the future.

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.