As I observe many different leaders struggle with strategy execution, I notice that priority-setting tends to be at the root of the problem. How do leaders struggle with establishing and communicating priorities? Here are four patterns of dysfunction that I have observed:
1. Leaders change their priorities quite often. Members of the organization think to themselves, "This too shall pass" as they observe the latest "flavor of the month" or "management fad" being championed from the top. Alternatively, employees simply find themselves confused as to what they should be doing.
2. Members of the organization do not agree with the priorities established by the leader. In some cases, leaders do not recognize the disenchantment. In other cases, they convince themselves that the employees simply "don't get it" and don't have the strategic vision necessary to chart the organization's path as well as those at the top. This type of "leader knows best" thinking can be dangerous though. Moreover, employee engagement falls, and therefore, productivity decreases when employees do not believe that the leader's priorities match their values.
3. Leaders do not communicate their priorities clearly. Too often, the leadership team assumes that employees throughout the organization understand the goals and objectives, when in fact, people are somewhat confused or unclear about the strategic direction and priorities.
4. Leaders set too many priorities. At this point, employees perceive everything as urgent and important. In some sense, if everything is crucial, then nothing is really crucial. People do not know how to allocate their time and effort properly in these situations.