“We’re so busy putting out fires and trying to keep the business going that strategy just doesn’t show up on the screen. We seem to drift a lot,” one leader confided in me. I could relate because I’ve been part of an organization that couldn’t maintain a strategic focus. We had flavor-of-the-month and reliably we would worry over sales each quarter, but strategy never got consistent attention.

The lack of strategic focus is a leadership issue, even when the leaders of an organization “live and breathe” strategy or see themselves as very strategic (but you might be surprised how many don’t). Such organizations also find it difficult to hang on to their talent for long.

Here are some of the symptoms:

“Tell me again: why are we doing this?”

“Strategic plan? I’ve never seen or heard of one around here. I think we basically do whatever Big Ed feels like doing.”

“Our competition always seems to be one step ahead of us (or several). We’re either playing catch-up or reacting to what they’re doing.”

“Yeah, we have a strategic plan. It’s one of those documents framed in the hallway of executive row next to our mission, vision and values that we did last year. Or was that two years ago?”

“Balanced scorecard??? This is probably another management fad that will go away in a few months.”

These symptoms are actually signs of some common issues (beginning with the most common):

  • No formal strategic planning takes place; no strategy is ever articulated
  • Strategic planning is event-centered (it happens once a year, and/or takes place at a leadership or board retreat)
  • Strategic planning is static and stale once it’s completed; hardly anyone updates/revisits/revises the strategic plan before the next annual event.
  • Strategic plans are not effectively communicated beyond a small group at the top
  • Lack of strategic thinking as an ongoing practice across the organization

How do effective leaders address the need for strategy? I’d like to hear some of your ideas, and then I’ll share some solutions for these common problems in an upcoming post.