When I founded Uncommon Clarity, Inc. over a decade ago, my initial focus was on creating organizational clarity so organizations could be more efficient and effective. However, it wasn’t long before I discovered how little strategic clarity existed in most organizations. It is impossible to improve performance without strategic clarity. You have to know what you are trying to achieve! Trying to improve performance without strategic clarity is like trying to win a race without knowing which direction to run. If you cross the finish line first, it is either sheer luck or evidence of zero competition.
So how do you know if you are operating with strategic clarity? Here are five signs:
- You know specifically where growth is expected in 2016 – which products, sectors, and geographic regions.
- You know what drives your customers’ buying decisions and have sharpened your competitive edge accordingly.
- You know where to invest to support these priorities.
- Your employees understand the priorities sufficiently to plan and achieve the prerequisites for success in time.
- Daily decisions throughout the organization about what to do, what not to do, how well to do things, who to hire, and who to fire are clearly aligned wit the strategic priorities.
If you tell me all five are true, I won’t believe you if you also suffer from any of the following symptoms:
- Your organization routinely struggles to hit important targets.
- Your employees complain about too many priorities and poor communication.
- You and your employees spend far too little time on activities for which customers are willing to pay. The vast majority of time is spent being exceedingly busy, but not productive. Customers are not eager to pay for time spent on unproductive meetings, email, chasing information, 2nd guessing, reporting, analysis paralysis, rework, unnecessary approvals, and escalation of issues that should have been dealt with immediately by employees on the spot.
- Improvement initiatives are driven by forces such as low hanging fruit, HR, consistency for the sake of consistency, local optimization, and squeaky wheels, not by strategic priorities.
- Products are “gold-plated” with features that damage profits without increasing sales.
- Under-performers manage to stay year after year.
- Your employees can point to critical investments and changes that were discussed but never made.
- Silos, egos, politics, blame, and excuses are frequent visitors at discussions of accountabilities.
- Neither you, nor your employees, are able to take vacations, spend time with family, and take time for professional development.
- Few seem to know how to say ‘no.’
I’ve been called in to help companies of all sizes with each of these symptoms. More often than not, a lack of strategic clarity is a primary root cause for all ten of these problems. Create strategic clarity and 2016 can be an unprecedented success!
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on December 31st, 2015.