By Kristin Larsen Published on 09-15-10
Lift the Fog of Ambiguity Off Strategic Execution

In this month’s issue of Fast Company, Dan and Chip Heath approach the challenges of change and the need to break down associated transformational tasks into specific manageable actions.  As part of this exercise, they cite the goal of eliminating ambiguity, which they liken to a “fog that obstructs one’s view of the mountain.”  Their approach struck us. As strategic planners who emphasize execution we work to corral uncertainties that foster ambiguity for our customers.  In fact, strategy exists to defend against uncertainty while adapting to the inevitability of change.

Since the future cannot be controlled, many times long-term goals and objectives in strategic planning seem unattainable and even grandiose.  For example, when you worked at NASA in the 1960s, putting a man on the moon probably inspired just a little uncertainty, if not full blown doubt, by some!  Nevertheless, they engineered the problem and incrementally came up with solutions.  The same incremental approach is needed for strategic objectives that position companies at a certain spot three, five or seven years down the road.  Luckily these aims don’t require the same amount of resources as placing a man on the moon.

For many organizations, a pervasive problem in executing strategy is the existence of ambiguous wording, measurements and tracking mechanisms.  Without clarity, a strategic execution becomes directionless work.  Morale and support quickly erode in these circumstances.

Adam Smith says, “On the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the Valley of Ambiguity.”  We say rebook your trip!  With clarity of purpose, organizations can create tasks and routines that keep incremental actions moving forward with holistic purpose and accountability.  Leave less to question and interpretation when assigning strategic tasks and begin progress toward a more certain future.

Strategy Check:  Do you steer clear of ambiguity when talking about strategic performance?