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It is not just culture that is eating your strategy, it’s your calendar too!

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, they say.  But first to take a bite out of strategy is the executive calendar already jam-packed with meetings and workshops.  When the daily busyness is attended to there are often only crumbs left behind. 

The Calendar Doesn’t Lie!

Executives say they are committed to the strategy.  But your diary does not lie! The amount of time spent on strategic priorities is the true measure of commitment. 

Caught up in an endless procession of meetings and workshops senior executives struggle to find the time to execute on strategy.  Specifically they struggle to dedicate sufficient  time to strategic priorities and initiatives. 

After just two hours of focused conversation the team was beginning to feel more aligned.  It had agreed its Top 4 Priorities as a team.  Everybody was feeling good.  Then came the killer question:  ‘What % of time are you spending on these Top 4 priorities?’  People were asked to reflect for a moment and enter their responses into the chat. The answers trickled in slowly ‘5%, 10%, 15%, 7% and 5-10%’ with the final response being ‘some weeks zero’.

This Senior Leadership Team knew what its priorities were, but struggled to spend any time on them.  People were spending just 4-6 hours per week on what mattered most and the other 40 plus hours on everything else (this was a team that defied normal working hours).  Unfortunately, this situation is not unusual.

Does your diary reflect your priorities?

Your diary provides tangible evidence of your commitment to making the strategy work.  It is not just about time, but the level of energy and attention – this is even more finite than the number of hours in the day or the week.

Management time and attention is a scarce organizational resource.  As such it should be allocated to those projects and initiatives that matter most to the business.

The often used Goethe quote comes to mind: ‘What matters most should not be at the mercy of what matters least’. The question is: Does your diary reflect your priorities – does it reflect your strategy?

The Department Head kept cancelling at the last minute.  It was the final planning session concerning the strategic initiative about which there had been so much talk. There was a vague promise that she would pop in between other meetings, if possible. Most people attending paid little attention to the leader’s absence – it was no surprise – just another sign of how ‘crazy busy’ she was.    However, for the Project Leader, the Head’s absence was a source of real concern – calling into question the level of commitment to the initiative. 

While the department head had repeatedly said that the initiative was key to sustained success, her words did not match her deeds.  Pinning down the Department Head and getting slots in her diary for periodic project updates or reviews would prove to be a key frustration for the leader when the project was up and running. The Division Head’s calendar spoke to her real level of commitment to the initiative.

Strategy: Imagination or Prioritization?

The experts on strategy espouse greater ambition and vision.  Leaders are told to dream big – to have ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’. However, all too often confidence in execution lags the ambition of strategy.  The result is an industry-wide gap between strategy and execution.

When it comes to executing on strategy the biggest challenge regarding strategy isn’t ambition or imagination – but rather calendars and diaries. That however is not to say it is just about time. The lack of time is often just a symptom of the real problem.

Have you got clear priorities?

How to fit 12 hours into an 8-hour day?  That sounds like a great title for a time management book.  But of course the real issue isn’t time management, but prioritization. 

Not all priorities, projects or initiatives can or should proceed and certainly not at the same time.  Real trade-offs are required.  Projects and initiatives must be prioritized and sequenced based on their importance.  The problem is that in too many organizations everything is considered to be urgent – everything is a priority.  The resulting proliferation of projects and initiatives means that energy and resources are dissipated or wasted.

Strategy is about choice – the choice to pursue one direction over another, to advance one project or initiative over another.  The problem is that too many strategies are a fudge.  They lack a clear decision regarding priorities.  More importantly they lack a set of ‘posteriorities’ – a list of things that are not priorities – projects and strategies that will not proceed and will not get management attention or organizational resources.

Are your strategic choices clear?

How to fit 12 hours into an 8-hour day?  That sounds like a great title for a time management book.  But of course the real issue isn’t time management, but prioritization. 

Not all priorities, projects or initiatives can or should proceed and certainly not at the same time.  Real trade-offs are required.  Projects and initiatives must be prioritized and sequenced based on their importance.  The problem is that in too many organizations everything is considered to be urgent – everything is a priority.  The resulting proliferation of projects and initiatives means that energy and resources are dissipated or wasted.

Strategy is about choice – the choice to pursue one direction over another, to advance one project or initiative over another.  The problem is that too many strategies are a fudge.  They lack a clear decision regarding priorities.  More importantly they lack a set of ‘posteriorities’ – a list of things that are not priorities – projects and strategies that will not proceed and will not get management attention or organizational resources.

Short Term isn’t Strategic

A short term focus is another reasons why diaries often trump strategies. 

Driven by the requirements of short term performance, managers don’t have time to look either side of the quarterly target.  They make decisions, such as cutting maintenance, or marketing to boost short term results inspire of the long term consequences. 

The cost of this short-termism is higher than anyone could have imagined – it could amount to as much as 47% of revenue and 81% of profit according to McKinsey data!1

Moreover, high levels of pressure or stress and short-termism seem to go hand in hand.  When we feel stressed our focus narrows and our ability to think or plan long term.

The irony was clear – the data showed the SLT running at 89% pressure at the start of a series of workshops to review its strategy. The time for strategizing was wrong, yet the strategy was needed before year-end.  Besides, the right time might never come – high levels of pressure and a pervasive urgency was the norm.

How to think and act more strategically when faced with short term performance pressures.  The answer was a carefully designed time efficient and step-wise process for alignment across the three time horizons. This process is called Pitstop to Align™.

Have you got the time for strategy?

Strategy takes time.  It takes time to develop and time to execute.  That means it is a challenge for busy managers. 

A majority of managers tell us that they don’t have time to think.   That means they don’t have time to do strategy right.  They don’t have time to have those essential strategic conversations that are required. 

Moreover, ‘if you have limited time it is difficult not to come up with the obvious‘2

  1. Dominic Barton, James Manyika, et al., ‘Where companies with a long-term view outperform their peers’, McKinsey Global Institute, February 8, 2017. Link: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/long-term-capitalism/where-companies-with-a-long-term-view-outperform-their-peers  []
  2. Kees van der Heijden, Scenarios, The Art of Strategic Conversation’ 2005. []

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