Strategic Issues vs Critical Issues

Some managers confuse being busy with getting things done. Or worse, they confuse getting things done with making progress. These have nothing to do with each other. It is easy to be busy. Advancing a Team towards the achievement of company goals takes a Leader. The difference between activity and results can often be a product of the nature of issues receiving focus. It can be in understanding the difference between Critical Issues and Strategic Issues.


All activity is not equal. To gain long-term success, managers need to examine the activities they are dedicating time towards and determine whether they are “running in place” or aggressively moving forward.

Let’s start with understanding Critical Issues. Critical Issues are those problems that if you are successful solving, return right back to where they should have been in the first place. Read this again…“right back to where they should have been”.

Typically you are fixing something’s or someone’s deficiency. The pattern moves from a problem occurring, to problem resolution, then back to where things started. If you’re incessantly dealing with Critical Issues, you are likely feeling very reactive either “putting out fires” or “draining swamps”. And feeling overwhelmed by the lack of time to make meaningful improvements.

Replacing an employee who has been fired or has quit is a good example of a Critical Issue. The employee leaves then you: have multiple meetings; get their workload covered; begin interviewing; hire the replacement; train the replacement; deal with the people issues of adding someone new to the team; redistribute the workload; the new employee begins performing. All this “busy” work and where is the situation? Right back where it started.

A strong manager has to be adept at dealing with Critical Issues. They always exist and can hit in a variety of unexpected ways. But taking too much pride in yourself, as a Critical Issues problem solver, can be a dangerous trap.

Strategic Issues, on the other hand, advance your company to a better place from where it started. Strategic accomplishments improve your Team. They increase productivity, competitiveness, selling results, profitability. These are the initiatives that will make a definitive difference for your company.

It is important to start comprehending the key strategic directives of your organization. Then you must find a means to spend quality time with your Leadership to understand and set specific goals for your team which will form the building blocks for driving strategy forward. These are your Strategic Issues. Own them!

Examples of Strategic Issues are: creating a new marketing campaign, developing a more streamlined process, a new sales deployment strategy, or improving customer service and exceeding the capabilities of your competition. They each take your company to a higher level of achievement. They put the company in a new place ahead of where it began.

Again, I am not suggesting you can ignore the Critical Issues. Quite the contrary, you must efficiently and expeditiously deal with them and put them behind. Don’t look for too much praise for fixing broken things. Your responsibility is to run your business unit proactively and with incomparable quality so these problems do not come about in the first place. I have dealt with managers who are constantly running around in crisis mode playing the role of Superhero, beating their chest, and claiming the place couldn’t survive without them. In due time their ineffectiveness shines through. It becomes apparent to their Leadership that someone with so many problems to solve may be the problem themselves.

Realizing the difference between Strategic and Critical Issues provides the capacity to really make a difference and distinguish yourself. Think about this. A great Street Smart Leader looks for the opportunity to take a Critical Issue and develop it into a Strategic Result. In doing so, they are able to leap past problem resolution and find a new opportunity to advance the company to a higher level of performance. Turning a Critical Issue into a Strategic Result creates true value and progress for your organization. These are the exceptional turn-around situations you can build a career upon. They are the rungs of your ladder.

Let’s take the Critical Issue of replacing an employee mentioned earlier. Imagine instead, you were able to develop a new streamlined process allowing the restructuring of your group while producing a better quality deliverable without replacing the employee at all. There is a Strategic achievement! Now you can take a bow!

Begin using this knowledge by taking out your task list, notebook, priority matrix, or whatever you use to keep organized. Then next to each entry write the letter ”C” (in red) for Critical Issues and “S” (in green) for Strategic Issues. Even use red and green folders for your work on these issues. If you only have “C’s”, I would suggest you take a hard look at your company’s strategy and re-dedicate yourself to making a difference. Look at your “S’s”. I bet you have been meaning to get to several of them for quite some time. It is easy to put these on the back burner when you’re in problem solving mode. Don’t let this happen. Good intentions are just that – intentions. Leaders demand results! Make sure you are spending time each week advancing Strategic Issues. And remember to rack your brain and dig out the opportunities concealed in Critical Issues. With Strategic Focus you can break the pattern, stop “running in place”, and leap forward.

Strategic Issues are the differentiating factor in business. As you move up the chain of command and gain additional responsibility, you will see your task list become filled with more and more Strategic Issues. They are worth your extra time, even if it requires late nights and Saturday mornings. To be a truly successful Leader, you must adopt a “No Excuses” attitude towards accomplishing Strategic Issues. Take the leap!

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