A simple question, but the answer may be more complex than you think. The dictionary defines strategy as “a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.”
Hard to argue with that. But while the basic definition may not have changed, how we go about devising and implementing strategy in today’s I’m-running-as-fast-as-I-can world is very different than a few years ago.
Strategy has always been, and still remains, mostly about making choices. It’s a process of determining (consciously or unconsciously) what is most important, and using the answers as decision criteria for where we want to go and how we will get there. When done well, strategy gets us to our destination as efficiently as possible.
But these days, when we all have more on our plates than we can handle at any given time, it’s also about intentionally deciding what we will stop doing to achieve our desired goals. In other words, it’s about getting focused in an information-overload world that is constantly pulling us in many different directions.
We can’t just keep adding items to our plate (and the plates of others) and assume our strategic plans will unfold as planned. When we continually pile more on our plates without taking things off first, the wrong things fall off the plate. When that happens, we end up working on projects, products and initiatives that don’t support reaching our destination. And today’s markets will not support that kind of wasted effort.
It’s An Everyday Thing
Strategy used to be a once-a-year event. All the company bigwigs got together, hammered out the goals for the upcoming year, and set the course in stone. Then they put the strategy on the shelf and left it there until next year’s annual strategy event.
Well, it’s now 2016, and that approach doesn’t fly anymore. These days, strategy plays out every day, in every meeting, decision, process and conversation that occurs. It’s a process of continually asking the right questions and answering them based on a mix of hard data, future possibilities, intuition, and the ability to put together disparate data from different sources.
In addition to asking the right questions, it also helps to understand why we ask them. For example:
Where are we going?
- Refocuses and resets the destination
- Prioritizes where we deploy our assets, including our time
- Is measured
- Is communicated constantly
- Helps us make appropriate trade offs/intentional choices
How will we get there?
- Identifies who will do what, by when, with what resources
- Defines how we will interact with each other and our customers during the journey
- Peers into the future to see what it will look like when we get there and works backwards to achieve the goal
- Clarifies who we serve, why and how (values)
- Clarifies why winning/reaching the destination is important – to management and employees
- Helps people understand how we make a difference to our customers and the community at large
Slow Down to Go Fast
Strategy seems more difficult than ever because it has become counter-intuitive in today’s hyper-paced world to slow down and be intentional about anything. We even take our phones into the bathroom with us for gosh sake! Who has time to work on strategy when we’re answering “important” text messages and voice mails from a bathroom?
As a result, being intentional is no longer the default or even a consideration. Instead, just running has become the norm, and defining our strategy seems like a time consuming-process we no longer have time for.
How do we increase our chances of success?
Start by understanding that we can’t define the “perfect” strategy for our organizations. There are just too many unknowns in the world today to even come close to that kind of certainty. Instead, we need to open our brains, feed them diverse data, and look up and around at what’s going on. Then use the information we are sure of (i.e. hard data) to create a fluid strategy that may need to be periodically refined.
Successful strategy involves a combination of data-based rigor and innovation. Identifying and considering a set of possibilities is the innovative part. Testing those possibilities is the analytical portion. Both parts are critical – and both can be learned. Most organizations tend to heavily favor one part over the other, which is why we rarely see great strategies anymore. Companies that dominate their markets know how to take advantage of both.
Call to action: Make sure everyone in your organization understands the “why” behind the three strategy questions discussed in this blog.