At most jobs, being busy > being strategic

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Look at this. It’s from here:

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Yep. But see, the thing is, it’s about much more than meetings and emails. Those are time sucks, for sure, but the picture is bigger than this.

How is “the most important thing for success” something we lack time for?

Few different reasons:

  • “Strategy is important for success” is something you say on a survey. It’s not something you actually believe.

Another point to remember about executives and strategy

Here’s some Australian consultant getting a bunch of top dogs (execs) in a room and asking: “What is your broader strategy?” They go off and write it down. And — drum roll — here are the results:

The results are always astonishing to me and them. Here are some of the responses from the list I received at my most recent session: actions (“launch a new service”; “review our suitability to the retirement business”); activities (“marketing our products through the right channels”); objectives (“achieve $100m net revenue”) and broad descriptions of what goes on (“planning process from beginning to end of product”; “working for your stakeholders”).

I literally ROFL’ed at this. “Marketing our products through the right channels?” Good Lord. These guys are making maybe half a million per year and that’s what they come up with? I would probably punch the guy in the face who said “achieve $100M net revenue.” You know he’s a total KPI-gagger who probably last complimented his wife in 1987. Sad but true fact: if you care that much about achieving $100M net and haven’t done it yet, you’re not very good at your job.

So executives often don’t know what the strategy even is?

Right. They confuse it with:

  • Tactics

This happens literally every single minute at companies around the globe. It’s far more normative and “at scale” than anything actually being strategic.

And why does this seem to happen?

All the psychological stuff above, for sure — but also the over-reliance and almost religious adherence to “the strategic road map.”

Here’s the problem with the “strategic road map” at most companies: once the road map is set, it’s intractable. That’s the opposite of agile. So a bunch of people work on this strategic road map for weeks/months, and then it’s set and approved. At that point, if a business need changes, the road map often can’t subsequently changed. “That’s out of scope,” someone will bellow. “We’ve already begun sprints and work assignments,” another will yelp.

Use the words “road map.” Now think about this. Let’s say you’re driving from New York to Philadelphia. You are using a map. Waze, a technology, tells you that a 18-wheeler overturned on I-95. You decide to use local roads to get to Philly quicker.

You just called an audible. In essence, you were agile. There was a concern regarding your outcome/goals, and you adjusted to meet that concern. That’s a very logical series of steps and decision-making. At no point did you say “I must stay on I-95 because that is my strategic road map.”

Companies and execs don’t think like that tho. They’re so fucking busy, right?

So they need this plan, i.e. something they can glance at and see a deadline and ping a bunch of people about that deadline and then sit and have an “exec readout” about that deadline. It’s all tactics and boxes being checked. None of it is remotely strategic.

So what do we do?

Advance more people who are:

  • Curious

These are people who will be curious about where the market is headed, read things, talk to people, have legitimate conversations with analysts, think through next steps, take walks, get feedback from all levels, etc. That’s how you become strategic — it’s getting out of the process/box-checking mindset and thinking bigger picture about the industry you play in.

Unfortunately, this is a long way off. We still promote off of:

  • Execution

… and as we do this, most of the curious learners with real insight and value just leave. But we don’t care. Some guy made a number and that’s reason enough to celebrate, even though the number could have been 5x higher if we kept the right people on the ship.

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