Why is Strategy so Rare? ...#2

Everyone has a justification after a failure of strategy. This series reviews the common reasons, or excuses, given for this leadership breach. We will address what to do about each of them in subsequent posts.

Last week I listed the first five in my Top Ten Excuses that make effective strategy a rare thing. For details on these common excuses have a look at the post:  http://www.currycorp.net/blog.html?id=162

 In brief, they were:

1. Tyranny of the Now
2. Check off the Box
3. The Rear-View Mirror
4. Organizational Myopia
5. Past is Prologue

The next set are no less common and no less troubling.

6. Fear of the unknown: Recognizable by the classic ‘ostrich head in sand' position and detectable by the cry, "don't bother me with the facts", these leaders lack more than personal courage. To lend credibility to their views they actively create and nurture fear responses across the organization about anything or anyone different from the current norm. They vigorously maintain the organizational status quo and deny the reality of changing external environments. Sometimes their fear comes from lack of confidence in the ability of their own organization, their colleagues or themselves to cope with the future. Sometimes the fear response is invoked to distract attention from the lack of a comprehensive strategic plan to cope with a rapidly evolving situation. Ignorance, denial and fear-mongering are not leadership and the underlying incompetence is very quickly unmasked by the simple unfolding of time.

7. Stakes are too high: This excuse has many variants all of which stem from a misinterpretation of relative risks. Change agents are told that too much time would be required or that the proposed strategy development is too uncertain or the proposed change too disruptive. Outside consultants are told that their costs are too high and their proposals too unexpected. I have even been told that rumors of impropriety would result from the amount of time I was proposing to spend coaching senior leaders! For these individuals the road to change always looks too steep to even contemplate seriously. Persistent negativity to deflect creation of a positive strategic plan dooms organizations to a reactive role as the world changes around them.

8. No KSAs: There are specific knowledge bases, skills and attitudes required to conduct effective strategic planning, foresight and communication programs throughout an organization. Sometimes these KSAs are available but dispersed within the organization. These individuals can be effectively realigned and refocused as required but finding and forging these teams usually requires outside help. Often it is useful to have outside change agents coach the in-place leaders which speeds attainment of initial positive results and avoids the cynicism and burn out that comes with time-lagged change projects. Experienced consultants can help organizations get over change resistance, react better to initial failures and align support within and beyond the organization for any required transformation process. Outsiders also provide plausible deniability for worried leaders.

9. Belief in Big Daddy: A shocking number of organizations explicitly seek charismatic leaders regardless of their other relevant KSAs, or lack of them. Promoting this type of leadership is indicative of a belief that charisma, or attitude, is more important or makes up for specific relevant KSAs. Charismatic leaders present themselves as able to take care of whatever happens on the strength of personality alone. The simplicity of this promise is appealing across an astonishing range of individuals and organizations. Organizations in thrall to Big Daddy have no need for strategy because their charismatic leader is believed to have all answers and be able to make any action direction fruitful. The predictability of this mistaken faith failing in the face of reality is so certain that I routinely book follow up calls when these individuals are hired.

10. The Munchkin Model: Many small organizations have a mistaken sense that, "We're too small for strategy". If anything, small organizations have more reason to attend carefully to strategic planning because they have fewer degrees of freedom to risk. They can also be more efficient in creating, testing and adjusting strategy. The payoff multiples from successful strategy are commensurately more important for small organizations: a 20% gain in member support means more to the viability of an organization with a $1M cash flow and three staff than it does to an organization working with $1B and 300 staff members.

Do you see yourself or your organization in any of these scenarios?

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