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Leaders, Organizations and Strategy

By John Dillard

I was all ready to write up my next blog entry on organizational culture.  That was before I had a meeting with an individual about organizational strategy.  The conversation I had made me think I should write a little something about a problem that I believe is prevalent, not only in the government, but organizations in general.

My discussion with the individual began around the type of service offerings Big Sky provides to our customers.  Since at that time of our meeting I had been executing a lot of strategy work, I mentioned that helping organizations think about and develop their strategies was an area where we had a lot of experience.   I don’t remember his exact response, but it was something like, “Yes, but strategy is something you do one time and then it’s over.”  I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I have to admit, I had to pause for a moment after this response to think of the right way to address that perspective.

My response focused a lot of the implementation of the strategy following its actual development and the re-visitation of a strategy after some period of time.  As I think more now about what we discussed, I was struck by the confusion this individual had around strategy, its purpose and execution.  I’m not sure of the origin of this perspective, but from my experience, that perspective is shared by many senior leaders.  In general, I’ve seen four camps of thought regarding organizational strategy.  If anyone reading this knows of more, please feel free to share.

Camp 1 – “I Know What I’m Doing” – These leaders will never develop a strategy because they don’t believe it’s needed.  In their own minds, they have a firm grasp of what needs to be done (they are visionaries), so they do not feel the need to write it down.  To some degree, they may be right.  Unfortunately, organizations are composed of people.  And people need to be made aware of the strategic direction of the organization they serve.  “I Know What I’m Doing” leaders typically run organizations as a dictatorship (benevolent or otherwise).  They are typically successful for a while, or in some areas, before the organization starts to react negatively to the leadership style.

Camp 2 – “We Need a Strategy Because Our Leadership Says So” – This is the appeasement crowd.  They’ll develop a strategy because their leadership says they need one but have no intention of implementing it.  In some ways these leaders act like Camp 1, but they aren’t as successful because they lack vision.  These organizations tend to flounder right from the start and get caught up in daily firefights and reactionary behaviors.

Camp 3 – “We Should Probably Have a Strategy, Right?” – These are the folks who are unsure of exactly what needs to be done in an organization, but they’re on the right track.  It actually isn’t bad to be in this camp.  But, if you are, you need to get a hold of some good strategy consultants (I can put you in touch with a GREAT firm) to help you develop and implement your strategy.  This is the teachable crowd, and in some ways being teachable regarding organization strategy is the best place to be.

Camp 4 – “We Need a Comprehensive Strategy to Guide our Actions as an Organization” – These folks are those leaders and organizations who are totally bought-in to the value of developing and implementing an organizational strategy.  Not only will they develop and implement it, they will revisit their strategy periodically to ensure it’s still relevant and make adjustments as necessary.  These leaders not only have vision, but they know exactly what their organizations need to do to achieve it.

I’m sure you’ve run into leaders in each of these four camps, and I know I have.  It’s important to remember that organizations will always suffer without a strategy.  Always.  So, if you’re a leader, take some time to think about, develop and implement your organizational strategy.  And if you want, enlist the help of individuals outside of your organization.  Outsiders will challenge your thinking and force you to develop a more comprehensive and effective strategy.