Strategic journeys are not always in straight lines

May 6, 2016|Thomas Schultz

Business owners and organization leaders face what seem like countless hurdles to the success of their organization. Those hurdles can often get in the way of taking the time to think strategically about your business.

Using an analogy, an organization’s strategic direction is like a conductor for a drum line that the business “dances” to each day. To finish the analogy, when strategy is unclear—like a conductor who doesn’t guide the drum line—you get noise, not music.

What does noise look like?

  • Conflicting priorities
  • Silo thinking
  • A lack of teamwork
  • Inefficient use of time and resources

Envision the beginning

Begin with the clarity of the vision and share what it means with each and every employee of the organization. The ability to tell the story and paint the picture of what “living the vision” looks like is no small task. It must be kept simple to that people can envision what they will personally be doing and seeing inside the business.

People rarely latch on to and believe in “buzz words” on a page—they must be able to see it and be involved in developing and delivering it to the greatest extent possible! As the title of the article suggests, sometimes the initial vision turns out to be unachievable and has to be modified.

Some of the most impactful leaders are those who talk with others regularly about the overall direction of the company. They don’t necessarily go out and solicit feedback, but they do use touch points with those around them. They normally start engaging other leaders in the organization and asking them about how they connect the vision to the work they do every day. They look for understanding of how the work they are doing aligns. Those real-time conversations reveal any gaps in understanding that need to be closed.

If you find people are not connecting the work they do with the overall direction of the business—STOP! It’s probably a good idea to go back and rethink your vision; perhaps not to change it, but certainly to think about how it should be explained and worked into “who we are.”


Everything is important, right? Well, to some people with a lack of clear direction for the business and themselves personally, the answer may well be yes. Not because that is the right answer, but rather it is the result of people trying to do their best where they individually see needs.

Some leaders get caught up in focusing on running the business efficiently daily—after all, if that is not occurring, there won’t be a business to think about long term. However, defining clear direction and priorities can only help increase your chances of long-term success.

Metaphorically speaking, priorities are like stepping stones that create the path to the future that the business envisions. Some companies use other names for priorities, such as milestones, short-term planning, projects, or any number of other names. What’s common to all of them is how critical ongoing leaders’ coaching and direction are to keeping people focused and on task. The priorities that result should encourage cross-functional interaction and cooperation.

Organizations should identify the operational functions that support the overall business. These may include:

  • Brand
  • Operations
  • Talent
  • Capital
  • Technology
  • Client(s)
  • Culture

Then within those operational functions, conduct a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) or related analysis to define the actions you need consider in aligning the function into the future. This work should be conducted prior to setting specific actions in place, and repeated regularly as a check of alignment with the vision.


Finally, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that are connected to and measure the movement toward the vision. When priorities are not clear, choosing the right KPIs, such as measuring quality vs. pounds produced, is even harder. Organizations can find themselves spending a lot of time looking for the “one right measure” versus considering how tracking a group of measures may be a better direction.


The best strategic plans do not help the business when they are on a shelf, in a binder somewhere. Where practical, they should be posted, reported on regularly and celebrated as milestones are made.

Listen for how teams are interacting and leveraging each other’s talent. If it is not happening—STOP! Talk openly about how the priorities line up with the existing vision for the organization. Listen for the barriers to teamwork that can include well-meaning personal agendas, misinterpretations of priorities, or simply not being on board with the direction of the organization. In any case, the barriers need to be understood, minimized or addressed so that the organization as a whole can keep moving.

Investing time to check your strategic position can alert you to the need to take either a very defensive or somewhat conservative position to mitigate risk, or indicate when conditions are right to be more competitive or aggressive.

For additional ideas and assistance with keeping your strategic vision on point, contact Thomas Schultz, PHR, or any member of Schenck’s Human Resources Consulting team at 800-236-2246.

Thomas Schultz, PHR, Manager – HR Consulting, has more than 20 years of human resources experience, including building human resource systems and structures that match the changing needs of businesses. He brings a broad blend of skills in areas such as leadership coaching, employee relations, benefits, training and development, change leadership and employment law.