Strategy Isn't About Getting Your Ducks in a Row

15 May

It’s about making sure you have you bulls in order;

  1. Tangible,
  2. Measurable,
  3. Accountable

Like a bull, it’s serious stuff - get on the wrong side of these three imperatives and you’ll find yourself in trouble. Get it right and the herd will prosper and grow. Sorry, enough of the livestock metaphors.


I’ve been lucky over the years to be a party to some great and some terrible strategy in both the planning and execution. This has given me great learning experiences on both sides of the coin. There is almost always an obvious difference between the good and the bad strategist (presence of the 3 bulls). Conversely there is almost no correlation to the type of companies, leadership styles or any other factor for those who get it right other than perhaps experience and the willingness to learn and adapt from failure [surprised gasp].


The Bad. In my experience bad strategy can generally be summed up as goals and vision statements – all dressed up but nowhere to go. If your leader pauses for applause during the reading of the new strategy, then you’ve probably just been fed a vision statement. This type of goal setting is really common and has its place in developing company culture so long as there is a delivery mechanism in behind it. After all, culture is defined as: The beliefs and resulting behaviours that are expected and viewed as normal based on prior situational experience.


The Good. As mentioned above is always; tangible, measurable and there is someone accountable. The content of the strategy itself can’t be covered in a blog as its highly specific and situational. It can however be developed through an engagement with a strategy specialist – like me. The final component to good strategy is best done well in advance and that is developing a positive, collaborative and supportive company culture. That comes from good leadership and there is no shortcut.


Don’t be scared of your strategy getting a bit wordy. A ‘plan on a page’ makes for a great sound bite but you’ll likely need a few pages to articulate the value of your program, assign accountabilities and outline the measurements for success. A good structure for your strategy can be to first outline the goal you’ve set or obstacle you intend to overcome. Secondly hit us with the guiding policy. These are the guidelines for dealing with the ups and downs of going after your strategic objective. The guiding policy gives structure to your undertaking. Last comes the actual actions that contribute to the achievement of the strategy. This is where you need to assure you’ve got your bulls in line. Lets unpack them a little more now.


Tangible – Is it achievable.

We all know there is a whole lot we could do but what should we do. So, here’s where you start. Strategy should strengthen or overcome. Activity that strengthens your unique value proposition is worth going after. A good example is a patent. It might be worth protecting your secret sauce that customers are loving, securing it through patent is a great protection mechanism and a worthy strategy. To overcome or remove an obstacle is another great way of strategically helping reach your goals. Maybe you have a particular product on the books that is only making a very small profit and it is tying up key resources, constraining your ability to grow. Looking to outsource, automate or even deprecate the product would be good strategies.

If the list is still too long, ask yourself; which of these options do we have the; skills, resources, budget and capacity to achieve – there’s your short list. Then chose from the options left that which would make the biggest impact.


Measurable - Test and improve.

I’ve not found it better outlined than in the book Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. Failure is inevitable, what matters most is how we learn and adapt from it. Our world revolves around dollars, numbers and percentages so its imperative that we have a framework for capturing those important markers to let us know how we are tracking. It’s common for team members to be somewhat confronted by this. Distinctly measurable success criteria can bring out the best and the worst in people. Reframing early how this is such a critical aspect to the strategic program is important. Our ability to celebrate an achievement is as important as our ability to fail fast and adapt – both outcomes should be uniquely measurable.


Accountable – Who ventures wins.

Accountability isn’t reserved for the boss, in an agile team there is joint and several responsibility combining to make the team accountable. Similarly, there are many scenarios where its important to have a named person or people accountable. Think of workplace safety legislation and the burden of accountability it has imposed upon people leaders. Invariably along the path to greatness there will be forks in the road and at times you need someone to be accountable for choosing the path. In strategy every one of the actions that combine to culminate in the achievement of the goal needs an owner. Someone to make the hard calls, drive the program and track progress. Without accountability we can slide into a state of cognitive dissonance and make excuses for why a failure isn’t a failure at all.


The psychology behind strategy and goal setting in general is fascinating and many contrasts can be drawn upon our broader lives and motivators. If you love a good business book as I do, get yourself Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. I started with the audio book and went on to buy the hard copy and still refer to it weekly.


Strategy gets better with practice and you can use it in all aspects of your life if you set your mind to it; saving for retirement, sporting goals, academic or career aspirations. Good luck in your endeavours – take the bulls by the horns. If you need a hand, feel free to reach out to me – I’m only happy to help.


Image sourced from Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay 

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