4 Reasons Why You Hurt Your Own Strategies
An organization identifies a need. They go through a process to create an initiative to meet that need. And things progress nicely along that trajectory.
Then the next project comes along. The another. Then another.
In short order, the organization starts to wonder why results aren’t satisfactory. With all of their projects and strategic initiatives, there should be no reason they don’t meet their goals.
Then starts the blaming. Front line staff must be dropping the ball, and so leadership creates a new project to get them shored up quickly. Front-line and middle management must be incapable of executing, so there needs to be an effort to demand results by measuring and holding them accountable for the deliverables.
And all this time, the employees and managers can’t even complete their own daily tasks satisfactorily, because there got to be a point that there was just simply too much to do.
What has occurred in this example – and across many, many organizations – is that too many strategies were allowed to manifest. It was not the problem of the employees or front management, but rather the leadership that allowed these projects to throttle the ability of the company to perform.
Two studies in the last decade showed some interesting statistics on the effectiveness and success of organizations that deployed fewer strategic initiatives – one from Ivey Business Journal and another from Booz & Company. Their results showed how less likely companies wold actually realize their goals. And the most interesting was a comparison of graphics that showed how much more ROI was returned in aggregate – both in time and in overall ROI – by deploying fewer projects against the organization’s resources.
Too many strategies alone is a self-defeating plan. There is only finite time and resources available and a fine balance to manage a few effective projects without having numbers of them competing for everyone’s valuable time and attention.
And yet it’s not the number of strategies that is the problem, but the rationale as to why numerous initiatives are pursued. In order to identify why so many strategic projects become normative, we need to understand the reasoning behind the decision process.
Chasing the “Shiny New Object”. A new idea comes across the table, perhaps trendy, splashy and marketable, The public relations and brand imaging that can come from this path are too tempting to resist. The problem with this rationale is that there is always a new angle and strategy that presents itself that can accomplish that purpose. It’s chasing after rabbits, leading to the old Russian proverb ““If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either.”
Fear of Losing Competitive Advantage. There are two reasons why leaders force new projects to keep competitive advantage: Keeping up with everyone else or being first to market. While the former leads to diluting your brand differentiation, the latter wastes time and resources which can be best used in allowing a competitor to spend those resources first then deploying fewer efforts more impactfully. While neither of these are bad decisions in themselves, the pursuit of an ever increasing number of strategies based on keeping this edge can yield diminishing results.
Not Understating the Behavior-Habit Cycle. The tendency of upper leadership is to assume that the employees can work harder and be more effective. Then when the staff can’t accomplish the results – through no fault of their own – another initiative comes along to get the staff to get those results. Then another. Staff end up being told one way how to make the project happen, then are told another, then another. All because leadership did not see the first project steps manifest in sustained behavior and allow their employees to learn how to adopt and master these new skills to be successful. Misunderstanding that most people need time to fold new behaviors into their current routine, and then more time to see results come from those behaviors is the fatal flaw here.
Impatience – Being Focused on Results, Not Process. Many times this is the consequence of not understanding the behavior-habit cycle, but it’s a separate reason in itself. A leader who only wants immediate results fails to understand how a strategic plan creates a process to make better results sustained over a longer period of time. They won’t have the patience to see a plan through if the deliverables don’t come right away, nor see how their organization – and mostly their people – will grow and become stronger as a result of seeing a project through. Instead they get a new plan in and soon move on to another one when that one doesn’t work.
It’s very common for top-heavy organizations to become top-heavy with strategies – running to fast with the head while the feet struggle to keep pace. But more important is understanding why those strategies are brought forth.
If leadership can look within and be aware among themselves of any of the four reasons mentioned, the far majority of issues with projects falling short of their planned objectives will diminish. In turn, the company will see a far greater return by allowing the hard work and resources on a more impactful few initiatives, less burdened staff, and more synergy to accomplish the goals agreed upon.