Why do middle managers hate strategy?

Posted: February 14th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, Systematic Viewpoints | View Comments

I’ve been involved with employee portals in at least 4 Fortune 25 firms in the past decade. I can say with some assurance that when it comes to their portals, what passes for long-term strategy in many large enterprises comes up decidedly short.

Strategy seems to be a bad word with a lot of enterprise middle management. There’s an artificially high value on short-term deliverables, getting easy wins and picking low hanging fruit. They believe they’re being agile and quick on their feet. They think it’s wasteful to be overly analytic. Quarterly goals are set at the expense of long-term vision, and the sad truth is that these managers are often in a revolving door; an ambitious manager achieves some carefully managed-down objectives, gets his or her gold star and is promoted in 24 months or so leaving a successor to clean up.

IMHO the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.

I’ve known developers who have literally built, dismantled, and rebuilt the same system 3 times in a decade as the cycle of  ‘new thinking’  turns endlessly. People with experience and long vision are often pigeonholed as being old-school, unable to think out of the box and have doubt cast on their often pragmatic stances. I was one of them. The outside experts were trusted to know more. I became one of those. Suddenly I knew more and am respected. Magical!

If I could advise these companies on anything, it would be train managers to be patient, to demonstrate why it really does take time to achieve world-class results and to let the first quarter of a project be spent developing a thoughtful and robust strategy that provides real vision and line of sight. They might finally stop churning and achieve the results that their mission statements so optimistically project.

When I sit down with a CIO or CFO I’m direct about the need for and value of a business-aligned strategy and honest about the time and effort it takes to achieve the goals they envision. Typically I get back honest appreciation and sometimes, relief. It’s not a cakewalk – these are sharp, brilliant people who cut to the chase with brutal efficiency. You will be mightily challenged, you must know your facts and truths and be prepared to turn on a dime from your prepared delivery. But one thing they universally recognize and appreciate is honesty. Don’t sugar-coat, misrepresent or adulterate the facts for your most senior management. They will respect you for it. You’ll suddenly be smarter, too.

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