Five Barriers to Implementing Strategic Direction

“David, we have a good strategic direction in place but we are not having success in implementing it effectively,” one of my best clients recently said to me. To change this, I made them aware of the five barriers that keep organizations from implementing the strategic direction that they have established.

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. It is essential to grasp that 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 in the trenches where people work. This will start the process of getting the desired results. Make sure your strategy is clear, focused and memorable. 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 to get preoccupied with the immediate and urgent things that are in front of us and lose sight of our main outcomes and objectives. Like the story of the little boy trying to put his finger in the dike, we move 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 are wanting 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 thing that keeps us from getting direction implemented is getting wrapped up in doing the things we 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 us to do today? The answer to this question will determine decisions, establish proper priorities and clarify the next appropriate step to take.

Congruency/Commitment Conflict
Barrier 4: Lack of congruency at the top and commitment from the middle

It is important that we have buy-in from the middle. Many have maintained that leadership starts at the top because what is at the top is what filters down. There is certainly 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 review often enough

The last thing that keeps us from getting consistent implementation is that we just simply don’t consistently revisit our strategy. We lose our focus. We don’t keep it in front of us and, consequently, operate in a dense fog. Organizations and people move towards what they are focused on. If we don’t keep that strategic direction in front of us, consistently driving us forward, we will lose our focus and not be able to efficiently and effectively experience implementation.

Strategy is a framework within which decisions are made, which influences the nature and direction of the business. It directs organizations as they make plans, marshal resources and make day-to-day decisions. Thus it is imperative that strategy is clear, concise and congruent. Otherwise we can be efficiently headed the wrong way. Companies lacking a clear, memorable, embraced strategy struggle with implementation, thwart tactical execution and blunt their effectiveness.

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