Avoiding Strategic Mishaps
We implemented the plan. (Or so we thought.)
But… we didn’t mean for it to turn out this way.
At its simplest, strategy can be defined as crafting a plan for how we will succeed. Unfortunately, simply crafting a plan for how we will succeed can result in unintended consequences.
We know that avoiding strategic mishaps is critical for success, so over the past ten years Intentional Impact has been providing a Leadership Audit (our formal leadership assessment process) and a Strategic Planning Process for many churches and organizations.
We know that leaders avoid strategy planning because of bad past experiences. We also know they want to be strategic, but they don’t know how to establish a process that gets them ahead.
Here is a “strategic process” scenario we have seen many of our clients experience:
Step 1: Spend lots of time and money to develop a five-year plan
Step 2: Roll out the strategy with inspirational communication
Step 3: Take the initial action steps
Step 4: Run into a couple of unintended consequences or obstacles
Step 5: Shelve the plan because today’s workload is overwhelming
Step 6: Evaluate how things are going and define your efforts as reactive not proactive
There are Three Lessons that have surfaced from our research of failed strategic processes.
- Fact-Based Decision-Making
The ability to make decisions quickly and thoroughly is one of the most strategic things that leaders do. In a strategic process, the first step is to gather data. Information is your friend. But information is not power, execution is. A mishap that seems to frequently occur is we have data but we make decisions based on feelings. Emotional reactions to criticism, people engagement, programmatic effectiveness and so on.
For example, attendance at a large church has plateaued, and the perception is that many people in the church aren’t as involved as they used to be. Quickly the leadership team plans ways to get more people to serve and to come to meetings. It’s an emotional reaction based only on top-line metrics. A closer look at the facts shows that the more programs the church offers the less new people are involved. The numbers also showed a 20% increase in young families, who may be defining involvement in the church differently in this season of their lives.
Facts allows us to ask the right questions and then make strategic decisions.
The right questions include:
- Are we measuring the right things?
- What are our current trends in what we measure?
- What is currently working that we need to pay attention to?
- Structuring for what the organization needs vs. structuring around who we have on the team
This is probably the biggest strategic mishap we see, particularly in the church world. When we organize ourselves based on who is currently on the team, we create many unintended consequences.
For example, Mark has been on staff at a midsize church for 5 years. He was hired to run family ministries which include the oversight of children’s ministry, youth, and young adults. His skills are in upfront teaching and in designing programs that will meet the needs of young people. He is gifted and called. But when leadership began to craft a strategic plan, the overriding pattern of thinking was “How do we let Mark do what he is good at?” It’s the wrong question.
Instead, leadership needed to wrestle with an entirely different question. What they should be asking instead is, “What is the role of the leader, and what are that person’s responsibilities, that will grow our family ministry?”
See the difference? One focuses on the leader and the other focuses on the mission being accomplished.
- Strategy is not an event, it is a process
The third lesson is the easiest to resolve.
Many leaders look at strategy as a once in a while, when-needed, event. We have a couple of meetings, we come up with a plan, and we are done. Ready… Go!
Again, we are left with unintended consequences.
Here is a different picture of what strategy should be:
Step 1: Develop an 18-month plan, based on a clear vision, with fact-based decisions with a team of people who are aligned around what the organization needs to sustain growth and health.
Step 2: Drive forward with a clear focus and priorities, tied to action steps, with follow-through and accountability metrics in place.
Step 3: Report facts in a timely manner, with a specific scorecard.
Step 4: Evaluate on a predetermined schedule, and adjust action steps as needed.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4.
These steps look a little different than the steps listed at the beginning of this article don’t they?
More than any other leadership input, strategy can have unintended consequences. Avoiding strategic mishaps is possible, by having a clearer focus, a shorter time frame and metrics for success and remembering strategy is not a thing to do, it’s an ongoing process.
One way to limit these consequences is to learn from and address these three lessons. These lessons drive us to ask key strategic questions:
Are you and your team making fact-based decisions?
Is your strategy planned according to what is best for accomplishing your mission, or does the organizational structure get planned around current personnel?
Do you have a strategic process that is ongoing and evaluative, or is your planning a once in a while event?
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Is crafting strategy a painful or an exciting process for you? How good are you at avoiding strategic mishaps? Are you evaluating and adjusting to keep on track with your strategy? Tell me in the comments below and I’ll reply!