Lack of clear direction in an organizations can be a toxin that saps effectiveness and undermines even the best performers. It can be mistaken for silo thinking – where functional areas or business units each focus on their own areas without working – and often presents itself through team battles for seemingly simple issues.
From “Alice in Wonderland”
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
– Lewis Carroll
Employees in Wonder What or How Land
This is the feeling so many employees get from their managers. Often they come to us for help and direction – expecting a yes or no, an A or B or C response. Too many times they fail to get a predictable and consistent . Depending on the problem, more often than not, the answer should be a question of “what answer would drive us forward in our strategic plan”. If the plan is not specific enough to include guidance for these types of questions we have chaos.
Consider the situation from the view of two functional areas. The strategic plan in one area of the business is something as vague as “to leverage technology to maximize our competitive edge in our industry and market segment”. Is there more than one way to interpret that?
Marketing team reads this and may interpret that to invest in a Social Media application plan. Based on current work loads and in-house skill sets that would require hiring and training for developers or outsourcing to a vendor. The IT department finds out about the initiative and decides it detracts from the core competencies and does not leverage any of the existing infrastructure or skills.
This scenario and variations on this theme are repeated constantly in organizations of all types. The situation frequently ends as the two teams compete to apply the strategy interpretation that makes sense to them. Even seasoned managers vacillate between interpretations and may even jump within functional boundaries as each team makes equally compelling cases for their interpretations. What may be perceived as indecision on the manager’s part is because they find equal value in competing ideas based on the prevailing opinion.
So, what is the solution?
First – recognize that each team may well be acting in good faith based on their understanding of the “rules of the game” – the strategic plan. The plan may be missing key specifics that leave employees guessing at the best course of action that has everyone aligned. When plan details compete, what are the prevailing expectations?
Strategic planning is not simple. The task of tuning the strategic plan is the primary mission of the executive team. A plan that is too complex may not be easily followed by the organization. However, a plan with gaps in clarity will undoubtedly lead to confusion and competing efforts.
Take the time to find the right balance. Engage your teams and find the gaps where they may be guessing or vacillating between interpretations. Doing so frees the team to focus on execution. They also then can begin to take ownership of decisions that are clear and in line with the plan. With ambiguity gone they can focus on their core competencies and end the tug of wars. There are hundreds of decisions a day. Make the process as clear and successful as possible.
To learn more about what strategic planning and how we can help your executive evaluate and communicate that plan, we would be happy to provide more information. The best executives multiply themselves through effective visioning, planning, communicating and selling the plan to their organizations. Contact us here, at RPS for more information.