First, the gut punch: Strategic plans never fail. Leaders fail to execute the strategic plan. A strategic plan is an inanimate object. It won’t move without force behind it.
So, why do leaders fail to execute on strategic plans? While there are several (including fear of change), the No. 1 reason I see with our credit union strategic planning clients is task saturation. Task saturation is the perception or reality of having too much to do and not having enough time, tools or resources to get them accomplished. With fires popping up every day and nonstrategic work flooding your inbox and to-do list, the time to focus on strategic work quickly evaporates.
Now, how did you get here, and what do you do about it?
Task saturation is a badge of honor in some organizations. Being “too busy” is a sign of your worth to either you, your board or both. Did you know (enter the snark here) you have the same amount of time in your day as all 45 American Presidents have had? Even Thomas Edison and Thales of Miletus accomplished all they did in the 24 hours given to them.
The other problems noted below contribute to task saturation, but one easy way you can start to remove task saturation is by eliminating the phrase, “I was too busy,” when something doesn’t get done. Instead, replace it with, “It wasn’t a priority.” Now look at what got done, and what didn’t and decide how many small tasks were put in front of the important strategic work. This one shift in words can lead to a change in habits, and ultimately the ability to focus on executing your strategic plan.
Your job description hasn’t changed. I was sitting with a CEO once trying to tackle task saturation, and I kept hearing, “but that’s my job.” I asked to see her job description and she was correct, but also wrong. This CEO’s job description had not changed over the last 20 years since she was hired, but the credit union had more than quadrupled in size! Her job description still had her involved in daily ACH work, handling loan decisioning, and other tasks that she now had plenty of staff to handle.
Review your job description every few years. A lot has changed in the last 20 years since this CEO’s job description was written at the time of her hiring, including their asset size, org chart, and the world in general. As your credit union grows, less task work is required from you and more time spent in strategy and leadership is crucial to survive and grow.
You’re a control freak. You have a leadership team and large team to support you, but you still find yourself task saturated. Meaning, you don’t trust your team enough to do their jobs, which leaves your hands still in the pot.
“No one can do this like I can.”
“If you want it done right you need to do it yourself.”
This is a deal breaker for leaders. If you truly can’t trust your team, then you have the wrong people in those positions and that’s a problem.
I wish I had a pithy solution for this one, but this is up to you. You must decide if you truly can’t trust your team, or you are choosing to not trust your team. Either way, until you can delegate tasks to the proper team members, sustainable and healthy growth will never be realized.
Being a student of the Stoics, I look at what Seneca said as a measuring stick for how we use our time: “We should never spend an hour of our time without knowing what the return was.” We can’t just waste time without accounting for where it went. We can’t just let life happen to us. We can’t let the pages fall from the calendar and the days tick by with nothing to show for it. We’ll never get them back. They belong to death now.
The three problems above have all been owned by me in the past, and to a point in the here and now. The advice I provided are steps I have taken to shed my bad habits, embrace growth, and become the strategic leader my team and clients need.