It’s the beginning of a new calendar or fiscal year and you and your team are excited about the future prospects. You’ve had a pretty good year, but not without some frustration and even, at some point, organized chaos. But it’s a new day. Your board, leaders and team completed a grueling but successful two-day annual planning session. Departments, division and product teams presented the success of last year, and have set forth the business plan for the upcoming year. You can feel the excitement and think more than ever that you have achieved strategic alignment.
But it doesn’t take long for strategy and focus leakage to start. By the end of the year, the well-laid plans became mere words in a business document that was filed away. What happened? Focus leakage, which is generally the result of not having a strategy at all. You may have a business plan, but not a strategy. Organizations often focus on projects and business objectives that move them away from strategic objectives – those high-level choices that impact their competitive advantage, positioning and competencies. The well-crafted mission statement or company “why” is set forth with great intentions, but has no impact on daily behavior of leaders, teams and employees.
In my work as an executive coach, I see organizations lose their focus all the time. As I dig deep into the organization, I see where priorities are messed up and confused. The business of doing more and more masks the frustration at the CEO level and throughout the organization. A big culprit of focus leakage is having to many priorities. Too many ideas and objectives cause leakage.
My clients use a one-page strategic plan that is reviewed weekly by the leadership team. The strategic plan is broken down into three sections: strategic, execution and resources. The structure of the brief weekly meeting forces the team to focus on the main thing – to focus on strategy and not on status updates of the many projects.
As author and management consultant Patrick Lencioni says, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.” He advises all organizations to define the most important thing in order to create a “rallying cry.” A rallying cry is a clear, concise and qualitative goal that is the primary focus of the organization over a specific time period. A rallying cry will work for you and your team as long as it is consistently communicated. If not, the rallying cry becomes just another project. Working with clients, I have seen time and time again where the rallying cry is defined, but then slowly fades out of the spotlight, as though it never existed. To help keep it at the forefront, the rallying cry must be included in that one-page strategic plan.
For example, if your defined aspiration is to be No. 1 in your marketplace, what are the one or two measures or if you have identified your ideal customer, how do you measure how you are doing in attracting more ideal customers? This seems simplistic but is favorable to what I see in many organizations, which is that the measures are less strategic, and mostly related to incentive plans or general business objectives.
Preventing strategy and focus leakage is imperative to reaching the next level. Lead with passion, lead with complete clarity and focus on the one big idea.