Look at this. It’s from here:
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.
- To most people, work is about control, plain and simple.
- You achieve control through adherence to process and checkpoints above all.
- We call that “executing” and those that do that well get promoted up the chain.
- It’s not really because they are strategic and innovative, no — it’s because they take shit from the plates of people that make more money, they do the shit, when it goes wrong they eat the shit, and they do that long enough that they get to throw the shit at others.
- By the time you get to the top of this pyramid at most places, all you understand is (1) process, (2) control of others, (3) execution above all, and (4) your own incentives.
- Nothing about that ecosystem is strategic, and what you’ve always found time for is meetings, calls, emails, and running people in circles on projects.
- So that’s what you continue to find time for.
- And so long as your product is OK and your pricing isn’t horrible, you keep making money and everything is OK.
- So long as the money is there, everyone can say “But we’ve always done it that way!”
- Rinse and repeat — go back to the top of these bullet points and do it again.
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:
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:
- Not assholes
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:
- Close to the existing power core
- Made some number
- Been around long enough so I guess we should
… 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.