Harry dejectedly walked out of his annual review. It would be another year where his work was considered exemplary, but that he would not be getting a promotion. The reason this year was that he was not ‘strategic’ enough in his work, thus could not be promoted to a position where strategy was more important.
He was not the only one to receive this message. His colleague, Maise, was also told the same thing. While they both received a raise and would be bonus eligible, there would be no movement in the organization for them, at least for another year. They both suspected that next year would be another reason, or maybe the same reason, why no promotion would be forthcoming.
The reason for this pronouncement from their manager seemed almost ironic. Harry and Maise were the go-to people in the department when some strategy needed to be implemented. They knew where to start, where in the company to get the right people, had the right contacts, and knew how to make the plans reality. Their work had directly contributed to the department’s success and even to promotions for some of their reporting chain. Their successes had only bred more assignments where they were always teetering on being overworked. There were times during the year where they were asked why there were delays in their schedule, a point which was brought up during the reviews. The strategists did not want to hear that they simply had too much work. Didn’t they realize the department’s plans needed to go forward?!
Their morale low and feeling discouraged, they opened their separate projects and began what they seemed destined to do for the foreseeable future. They prepared their status updates and continued their work.
We laud the strategists. They are the movers and shapers of the company. They come up with the big ideas that drive the firm into the next few years. We revere their abilities to see into the future and navigate the ship for greater success and profits, at least it is hoped.
The one thing that always seems to be missing in that reverence is that without the implementers, the strategy is simply a piece of paper. Without the know-how, contacts, and expertise of those who bring the strategy for life, there is no forward movement and no glorious future. There are no back slaps in the executive suite and handshakes all around for another success. There are fewer promotions for a strategy well executed.
But we don’t see it that way. We see the implementers as something less. We see the implementers as not worthy of promotion because, well, they aren’t strategizing, are they? No, they can’t seem to get out of the drudgery of being concerned with the little things, the mundane, the ordinary. They need to think bigger!
Yet, what do you do with the implementers? Give them more to implement! They are so good at it, aren’t they? Just hand it to them, get some updates, and report the success. Or report the issues with the project and how you had to swoop in to save it, showing the implementers are just not ready yet to join the upper ranks. Either way the argument for the lower ranks to stay exactly where they are is justified, at least to your own mind.
It’s time we changed the conversation. It’s also time we changed the attitudes. A company can’t run with everyone deciding where to sail the ship and nobody taking the wheel. Those who implement are as crucial to the viability of a company as those who strategize. They should not be treated as undeserving of promotion simply because they have a different skillset, one that the company cannot do without.
If the conversation won’t change, then it is incumbent of those who strategize to take those skills and teach them to others. That is going to require sacrifice. It will require less work upon the implementers so they can learn to strategize. It will mean a lower chance of success because you have invested in the career of another human being. It will mean courage to explain that to your executives.
All that will take a different kind of strategy. One that will keep good people with the company and your bench strength filled. The question is, do you have the fortitude to be the implementer of that?