Currently the greatest external challenge to most companies is the high degree of strategic ambiguity. More and more organizations are doing a PESTEL analysis, i.e. the study of political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal trends, and finding too many variables and uncertainties within the service delivery environment. Furthermore, these same companies are finding a lack of strategic clarity within the organization and a lack of strategic flexibility in systems and people also within the company. In short, many companies have discovered that they lack clear systems for managing or creating strategic adaptability. Overwhelmed by the complexity, they also are not proactively creating a system for building and maintaining an adaptive strategy.
From my vantage point, the underlying causes for organizations not being able to build and maintain an adaptive strategy starts first at the senior team level. More and more of these teams are becoming dysfunctional. Rather than acting like teams, they often default to being senior leader work groups. Built around status and ego with a dash of artificial harmony, these so called teams avoid accountability and show little commitment for holistic strategic success. Furthermore, most are afraid of conflict and only talk about commitment, but show little behaviors related to it.
Second, most of these same organizations and their leaders are showing the hubris born of success, a problem first identified in Jim Collin’s book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. As he writes, “Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” By neglecting their primary flywheel for success, these leaders allow “what” to replace “why”, not realizing that when the rhetoric of success replaces an understanding of why, there will be a decline in the learning orientation of successful people and the entire company.
Third, these same leaders also lack a clear understanding of the relationship between culture and strategy, resulting in a lack of “institutionalizing” a clear definition of their culture and not leveraging their organizational core values to their competitive advantage. The result is that the company and in particular the senior team tolerate people in management and leadership positions whose behavior is out of alignment with the stated culture, core values and strategy.
While the above is taking place at the senior team and cultural levels, the next challenge for many leaders and their companies is how to successfully capitalize on expansion and growth opportunities. Most think of it as an effort problem when the vast number of problems actually fall into the area of strategic infrastructure to support expansion and growth opportunities.
As we all know, new innovations compete for company resources, i.e. time, talent, and management attention, with the cash generating projects during any fiscal year. When all of the company’s budget, reporting and management processes are focused on the current fiscal year, they also define the compensation and incentives systems and thus focus everyone on accountability to the current fiscal year’s goals. If people do look ahead during the current fiscal year, they look to R&D and their long range strategic options by reviewing research, data and trends. The result is that any new innovations fall into a Bermuda Triangle where they are considered to a degree strategic but not yet fully implementable because the resources of time, talent and management attention are not fully given to them. In this no man’s land, the “new projects” here fail to be embraced because they can not deliver like the current fiscal year goals and systems. And because they can not show a fast ROI like current fiscal year products and services, they also are then hampered by lack of full operational support. Therefore, the new innovations become “demo bait” for selling more of the current fiscal year projects and services.
Finally, there is one other problem that is causing many organizations to struggle at this time period. They do not understand the real challenge of talent management and performance management. They consider them to be something different but do not recognize that they are also interconnected. For example, many leaders do not recognize that talent management and development is about preparing an individual for future positions within the company, i.e. building bench strength, while performance management is about managing their current performance as it relates to agreed upon annual goals and 90 day plans.
Given the aggregate of the aforementioned issues, many organizations need a clear strategic infrastructure which helps them to adapt strategically, manage talent and performance, and prepare for and implement strategic innovation. The sum of the above problems are hampering many organizations who are seeking a better future.