Why Your Strategy Isn’t Working: 3 Critical Factors that Could Be Sabotaging Your Success

This is a guest blog post by Jenni Catron. Jenni is Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group and is a member of my new Speaking Team. You can book Jenni to consult with your team or speak at your next event here.

By Jenni Catron

You’ve heeded all the best practices. You’ve gone to all the right conferences. And yet if you’re like most leaders, you still feel like you’re struggling to get traction towards accomplishing your vision.

There is nothing more frustrating as a leader than to have a God-given vision burning in your heart but the inability to see that vision become reality.

We are wired to grow things. I don’t think this desire is wrong. In fact, I think it’s in our nature. God’s instruction in the book of Genesis post-creation was to “fill the Earth and subdue it” – that’s an implication to grow.

Play building blocks with any toddler and they will default to building as tall as they can as quickly as they can. If you want to be a witness to a tantrum, stay long enough to see their haphazardly constructed tower come crashing down.

We tend to throw tantrums too when the plans we’ve set don’t meet our expectations.

We tend to throw tantrums when the plans we’ve set don’t meet our expectations. Click To Tweet

In order to manage our expectations (and our tantrums), we need to understand the bigger picture of organizational life and the essential building blocks that support the health of our organization and our vision.

The lifecycle of an organization is often depicted as a bell curve. We all aspire to go “up and to the right” as quickly as possible and do everything within our power to resist the backside of the lifecycle which depicts decline and ultimately death.

There is nothing more frustrating as a leader than to have a God-given vision burning in your heart but the inability to see that vision become reality. Click To Tweet

As a certified strategic planner working with organizations on their strategies for growth, I repeatedly see two key areas that are often overlooked in the pursuit of growth. These two key things are foundational for organizational growth to occur.

1) Purpose

2) Culture

These are the foundational steps that support your growth up and to the right. I picture it as a set of stair steps undergirding the curve. Each one of these steps is a key facet of organizational development that we must attend to.

If the first two steps of purpose and culture are given appropriate attention, the third step of strategy becomes a more natural overflow of our effort rather than an elusive target we can’t hit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This graphic gives us a visual of the reality of the importance of these two steps that precede strategy. While the strategy is important, a consistent focus on purpose – why we do what we do, coupled with a commitment to our team are essential for us to build the strategy on.

While the strategy is important, a consistent focus on purpose – why we do what we do, coupled with a commitment to our team are essential for us to build the strategy on. Click To Tweet

So what’s holding you back?

Here are 3 critical factors that are sabotaging your success:

1. Without a keen sense of purpose, you will crush under the weight of responsibility as you scale up

Why do you do what you do?

Most organizations start with a strong sense of purpose. You painstakingly craft your mission, vision, and values. This is the only thing you have at the beginning so you do the initial work to define it.

This step is mostly below the surface. It’s foundational. It is the biggest step and shoulders the most weight. It’s the “why” behind everything you do.

The problem emerges as the organization grows. Demands of congregants or customers compromise your clarity of vision. New staff members bring new ideas. Opportunities emerge that sound like a good idea and before you realize it you lack clarity of purpose.

Without a keen sense of purpose, you will crush under the weight of responsibility as you scale up Click To Tweet

2. If your culture is not healthy, your strategy is irrelevant

Research tells us that a strong and healthy culture leads to greater employee engagement and more growth for your organization.  And yet while 90% of leaders believe that an engagement strategy will have an impact on their success, only 25% of
them actually have a plan.

Research tells us that a strong and healthy culture leads to greater employee engagement and more growth for your organization. Click To Tweet

Most of us understand that culture is important. You’ve likely heard the quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We even subscribe to axioms such as “people are your greatest asset.”

We give lip service to the importance of culture but when we’re pursuing organizational growth we focus our efforts on strategic plans, setting audacious goals and implementing the systems and structures to support them while we neglect to develop
our teams and create environments in which the very people we need to accomplish our vision can thrive.

The second step of culture is comprised of leadership development as well as team dynamics. It starts with our personal growth as a leader and extends to how we cultivate the development of our teams. This step builds upon the purpose in that you’re helping a
team of people personally and collectively behave in congruence with the purpose of the organization.

If your culture is not healthy, your strategy is irrelevant Click To Tweet

3. Strategy only succeeds when it’s aligned with purpose and culture

It’s not that strategy isn’t important. It is.

We need to know how we’re going to accomplish our mission and vision, but this is often where I see leaders spend disproportionate amounts of time and energy. Eager to identify outcomes and accomplish audacious goals we quickly pursue the strategies that will make those goals possible, only to have spent significant budget on building a strategic plan that sits in a binder on a shelf and is the brunt of staff jokes.

Leaders often call me when their repeated attempts at strategy are not resulting in growth. Their eye is on the top of the bell curve – that pinnacle of growth (however growth is defined for your business or ministry).

Unfortunately, I’ve heard story after story of leaders who have invested in strategic planning year after year with only unfulfilled plans and frustration to show for it.

With a quick assessment of the organization I typically identify problems in either or both of the first two steps.

Strategy only succeeds when it’s aligned with purpose and culture Click To Tweet

Problem #1: We drift from our purpose.

In pursuit of a grand goal, the organization has lost touch with its core purpose. Author and organizational consultant, Simon Sinek, refers to this as a “just cause”. If an organization does not keep their just cause front and center they will flounder.

Inspired by what is working for another church or organization, we will mimic what they are doing hoping to achieve similar results only to find it ineffective and frustrating.

Afraid of disappointing an influential congregant or donor, we add programs that aren’t in alignment with our core purpose, therefore, creating more complexity and lack of focus organizationally.

Problem #2: We neglect our team.

As the whirlwind of organizational life accelerates, time spent in leadership development and team dynamics takes a back seat.

I experienced this personally in one of the organizations that I led. When I started we were a small team of five making it easy to spend time together learning, growing and building trust.

As we grew, it seemed we didn’t have time for relational connection. Team building efforts or leadership training did not feel like the most valuable use of our time. The demands of a faster moving organization racing towards growth squeezed out the very thing that provided life and energy to our team.

The weight of success will be crushing if we are not attending to our purpose and culture. If you trace the trajectory of an organization that has imploded I’m confident you’ll find a crisis of purpose or a compromised culture beneath the rubble.

As a point of clarity, let it be assumed that the steps undergirding our organizational growth are linear, they are not. Attending to all three areas of organizational life is more like living on a stair climber. You are continuously moving up and down these steps adding in important blocks that continue to support the growth and development of your organization.

Are there fractures in the purpose or culture of your organization?

The weight of success will be crushing if we are not attending to our purpose and culture. Click To Tweet

Here are some questions for you and your team to consider to help you diagnose where you need to direct energy in this season:

Purpose Questions:

  • Do you have a clearly defined mission, vision, and values?
  • Do you frequently refer to mission, vision, and values in conversations and team
    meetings?
  • Can your leaders define the purpose of your organization in one sentence?
  • Are major decisions consistently filtered through mission, vision, and values?

Culture Questions:

  • Does your team enjoy being together?
  • Do you have a process for the ongoing development of staff?
  • Do your senior leaders model and encourage self-awareness and intentional personal development?
  • Do you handle conflict well?
  • Do you trust one another?

If you didn’t answer a resounding yes to these questions your most strategic efforts will be clarifying your purpose and cultivating your culture.

These are the building blocks to your success!

Need more time to work “on it” and not “in it”? 

Posts like this can be overwhelming. You want to take your strategy to the next level, but feel like you can barely keep your head above water as it is.

When will you find time to push through the inertia and really dig into the problems you face? To take care of yourself in the process, and to forge a new future?

Let me help.

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I’d love to help you free up hours each day to do the same thing. And I’ve helped over 5000 leaders do just that.

If you’re trying to find the time for what matters most in life, my High Impact Leader course, is my online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – Joel Rowland, Clayton County, North Carolina

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What about you?

Which of these three building blocks are you succeeding at? Where do you need to direct more attention right now?

5 Comments

  1. Paul Noblin on July 3, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    I have given up on psychology, and the advice of others. It is my belief that a person knows what is wrong with themselves, and knows how to fix these problems. Adding more pages to one’s program is practically worthless. Every page of one’s personal program should be analyzed and corrected. I have developed a simple method to fix one’s errors and reprogram one’s brain.

    The Key to the Universe:
    Revelation One Nineteen
    Write down a brief account of your day, your problems that day, and a list of tasks to do the next day.
    ©1985 Paul Noblin

    Read Rev.1:19 (KJV).
    “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;”
    Write down the past, present, and future.
    I broke the code.
    Align your inside mind with the outside world (reality including Christ), and you will be one with All.
    You are the center of your own Universe.
    Telepath Love & Perfection.

    Certainly, it is good to listen to the advice of successful people and to be an apprentice in your field. Still, a person needs to repair themselves first.

    I recommend that every person should read every word of the Bible, twice. One time for content, and again for context. If you know that the Bible is the word of God, it makes sense to read every word of it.

    My information is free. Reading this post over and over again will get one nowhere. Buy a blank notebook, and try this proven method every night. It only takes fifteen or twenty minutes of your time in the evening. You should see life changing results in about two weeks.

    Warm Regards… Paul.

  2. Dennis on July 3, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Oh my! I had to answer “NO” to every single question on both purpose AND culture when applied to the non-profit where I serve regularly. It wasn’t unexpected, but was terribly disappointing. The worst thing is the red flags are waving, but the leadership is in complete denial. I’ve tried several times to begin a dialogue and been put off again and again. I’ve e-mailed links to several different leadership podcasts, books, etc. I’ve even offered to share my experience in leading a diverse team for several years to no avail.
    I hate it because the organization serves a critical need in our community, but I believe I’ve maxed out my potential with this organization and am going to have to move on. I’m tired of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    • Jenni Catron on July 4, 2019 at 6:49 am

      Dennis, I’m so sorry to hear this. Do everything within your power to lead well in your area of influence. Create a great micro-culture in the area you lead. Be faithful to where God has given you influence and perhaps your leaders will take note. All God’s best to you!

  3. Celeste on July 3, 2019 at 11:28 am

    This is an awesome blog post! I see what is mentioned here in my small church home. We have not outlined our purpose; therefore one doesn’t exist. And our culture is negative, non-supportive and void of encouragement. We are basically having church for the sake of having church, but the mission of Jesus Christ to reach our local community with the gospel isn’t happening. The near mention of a change in direction causes leadership to view it as demonic, and/or carnal or “what those mega-churches do!”

    I hear a lot of complaining that God isn’t doing this or that, but what are we doing for God? We need a God-centered purpose and culture or else we will simply be a people assembling together with no aim.

    • Jenni Catron on July 4, 2019 at 6:56 am

      Celeste, this is often a challenge for churches. We don’t want to lose the heart and soul of the ministry by implementing strategies but by not being intentional to define a clear purpose and connect our congregation to that purpose we end up not achieving the mission. Praying for you and your church.

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