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

Posted by Jenni Catron on Jul 26, 2021 4:42:02 PM

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 something 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.


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. 


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 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. 


So what’s holding you back?


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. 

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.


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 Purpose in that you’re helping a team of people personally and collectively behave in congruence with the purpose of the organization.

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 a 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. 


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, lest it is 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? 


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!


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


Topics: Leadership, Coaching, Team Culture

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