Getting Unstuck with Strategic Momentum

December 12, 2023
Sarah Brown
Partner & Head of Operations

Does this sound familiar?

  • A strategic plan that gets abandoned halfway through the year.
  • Fuzzy measurements on metrics that no one is sure get reviewed anyways.
  • Goals that staff are unclear about.
  • Constant swooping in to rescue, micromanage, or reinvent the wheel.
  • Waning energy in your workforce, particularly when new initiatives are announced.

If any of those resonate, the good news is you’re in the right place. It’s more common than most companies realize. And there’s a name for what’s lacking: Strategic Momentum.

An organization that is stagnant, divided, or in constant putting-out-fires mode will find it difficult to make any inroads towards key goals. It’s not just about having a “great strategy”. It’s about having a clear strategy that’s communicated and measured and championed by each person implementing it. Provided you’ve got the right people and a healthy culture of collaboration, this is how you get wins under your belt. And as you win together, that energy builds and, eventually, you have Strategic Momentum.

The Ascent Model for Organizational Health

Strategic Momentum pushes your organization towards sustainable success. That’s why we put it at the base of our Ascent Model for organizational health—because without it, you lack the power to move forward.

We created the Ascent Model and its corresponding Ascent Assessment to empower leaders to unify their efforts around organizational health. The model focuses on these four areas:

  • Collaborative Culture
  • Leadership Accountability
  • Strategic Momentum
  • Talent Magnetism

So Strategic Momentum is important—got it. But how does a company become great at it? I’m glad you asked.

How Can My Company Build Momentum?

If we drill down into what an organization with high Strategic Momentum has going for them, we find three core pieces:

  1. Clear strategy
  2. Proactive adaptability
  3. Sustainable profitability

When an organization is healthy in this area, aspirational and realistic goals are set—and met. Progress is tracked, gaps and shortages filled, tasks and jobs done faster (or slower but better), and everyone, from leadership to direct service workers, are in alignment regarding the organization’s key priorities and strategic goalposts. This is what we mean by clear strategy.

A valid question some ask here (yes, you with the blue shirt in the back?): “How do you ensure you’ve set a good, clear strategy?” Well, a key piece of the answer is who sets strategy. It’s the job of the board of directors to take the lead 1) in defining strategy and ensuring it aligns with the organization’s mission and vision, and 2) in creating a process by which that strategic plan will be evaluated. That’s how you’ll get the answer to this question.

But we all know things don’t always go as planned. And sometimes it’s not even because the plan was flawed! No one would have possibly planned for whole countries to be in lockdown—sometimes unforeseeable events happen. This is why proactive adaptability is an important ingredient in Strategic Momentum.

Your ability to pivot is something that needs to be baked into the culture you build, not just called upon in times of need. The larger an organization, the longer it takes for a concerning event to reach the right ears, get discussed, and have a decision made. You need to create a culture that provides you with the right warning signs through trusted lines of communications throughout your organization. That’s what gives you a chance to be proactive, and, if you’ve shown you were listening all along, it means your people will already be far more bought-in when a decision is made, and change needs to be implemented.

The reality is that building momentum requires resources. You have to be intentional about building “bench strength” with your staff: ensuring they understand and own their roles, entrusting them with authority and agency within those areas, and making sure staff have what they need when they need it. You, as an individual, might be fantastic at adjusting to change, but it's your people as a whole that need to be. You need to know what they need, measure and celebrate the wins they achieve, and build trust so when you call on them for a big shift, they both trust you to go with it and can articulate what they need to do it well.

Is It Working?

Are your efforts related to Strategic Momentum yielding results? An organization that is pushing forward effectively is going to see sustainable profitability—our last key ingredient for Strategic Momentum. If it’s working, you will see changes right there, in black or red. It’s worth acknowledging, too, that “profitability” might look different depending what stage or type of organization it is. But however you define it, there should be a rising steadiness and predictability.

Remain In Motion

Strategic Momentum is a state of being, not just being active. If that sounded too earthy, let me say it another way: this is not a box on your checklist, but an active value that affects how you lead. You don’t “finish” Strategic Momentum. You finish writing the strategy, but now you are living it, implementing it, evaluating it, and learning from your stakeholders and customers about it. Healthy organizations work every day, with every action, with every decision, and with every goal met together, to build and maintain the momentum they need to adapt, innovate, and thrive.

Ready to set your organization in motion? Start with the Ascent Assessment and uncover the language, tools, insights, and actions that will transform your teams—and your results.

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