Obstacles to Strategic Thinking
Obstacles to Strategic Thinking come in many different sizes and shapes, yet, they can have negative impact on an organization’s ability to successfully create their future. There are a number of obstacles that are common blocks to successful and effective strategic thinking. As a leader, you must be prepared to recognize these obstacles and make choices to minimize their negative effects.
There are eight primary obstacles that occur in most organizations. It is your job as a leader to recognize these eight and focus upon the real goal of creating a clear pathway to the future. Here are the primary eight obstacles…
- Fuzzy Vision – This is a classic obstacle. Even with 80+ percent of executives time spent in meetings – usually with each other – when you ask each executive about the vision of the organization – you will get different answers regarding the vision. When the top executives can’t get it right, how can expect everyone else to head in the right direction? A common and shared vision is an important starting point for creating your future.
- Management Time is Dominated by Operational Thinking – With some much operational thinking and focus, it can hard for executives to get into futurist thinking mode. In fact, we have found one of the major problems with no growth organizations is a total lack of futurist thinking capable on the part of the management team. Without this capability the focus moves to the past rather than the future.
- Reactive rather than Proactive – With the common exercises being crisis management actions, this clearly directs the executives to be more reactive than proactive. The lack of contingency planning or thinking limits the ability to be proactive with new ideas and innovative products or services leading to new growth and higher profits.
- No Crisis leads to No Strategy – Again the seemingly never ending crisis management battles take a major toll on time and commitment to Strategic Thinking. Without a discovery of fatal flaws in the organization, real planning, thinking and creation of the future get placed on the back burner in most organizations. It’s front burner time for strategy making decisions.
- Short term rather than Long Term Thinking – Okay, this one is not as easy to point out today due to the rapid turns in the economic environment and forcing a new way of thinking. However, it is important to think into next year or a couple of years out for strategy to be effective. The old days of doing 5 to 10 year plans is a total waste of time due to the rapid change in the business climate and how fast our competitors move on a global basis. Yet, three months is not a strategic plan.
- Bottom Up or Top Down? – This question seems to stop a number of executives in their tracks. Yet, the answer is quite simple. Strategic Thinking and Planning is a TOP DOWN activity. Some managers get confused about this since regular planning – budgeting and projections – take place with a bottom up focus with some push down of needed or expected changes. Strategy is for the top people to decide upon and then past the information down through the organization for a shared vision and understanding of the strategy. This last point is extremely important for the overall success of the organization.
- Rose Colored Glasses or Blue Sky Thinking – This one is very interesting due to two factors. First, since a large percentage of organizations have bottom up organizational budgeting and projections, the numbers get too optimistic as the lower level managers only want to share good news. They tend to leave out the reality stuff or the potential problems. Then the second part, is the executive themselves tend to be optimistic and fail to ask the tough questions about the real potential of the numbers or they want to impress the financial analyst or wall street. Practical thinking and tough questions should be the standard. (As a side note for the public companies – if you miss the targets on the downside for two quarters in a row – the street will be very negative on your stock value. It will actually take years of progress to get the trust level back with these people)
- The Process or Lack of a Process – This is the big one. When there is no formal system or on-going process for creating and executing your strategy – the short term operational types win the game. Then you are back to doing the old stuff – efficiently and effectiveness is left out in the alley! Effectiveness of the organization has a direct relationship with strategy and strategic thinking. It is all about looking into the future and creating the future today. This is the most important part – having a process that brings it to the front burner everyday. By having it at a top of mind level, then the important decisions being made today will have a blend of the future with today’s reality.
There you have the eight most common obstacles to successful strategic thinking and planning. Review this list and make it a priority to limit their impact while putting strategy at the forefront of the organization.