Do you have a strategy? Maybe you think your organisation is too small to need one, or maybe you have one but haven’t checked in with it recently. Or maybe you are unsure what a strategy even is! After decades of working in both the private and public sector, in all sizes of team, and all types of industry; I believe that every organisation needs a story to tell about what it is aiming towards. That story is essentially a strategy.
A strategy is the story of where an organisation is going, and the areas that it will need to focus on along the way. I am not here to tell you how to write a strategy – a quick Google search will show you that there are many strategy frameworks available and, in my opinion, it is not important which one you choose, as long as you select one that works for you.
A common misconception is that a strategy is merely a list of programs and initiatives to be undertaken. It is not. A strategy should focus on the outcomes of what it does. So, a move away from what it does to what it intends to accomplish for its customers, citizens, or employees.
This is one of the key places that strategies fall down on – but what other stumbling blocks could trip you up along the way to developing a strategy?
One of my ‘favourite’ issues, which I see time and again is the overabundance of vision statements! Now you may disagree, but in my view there should be one vision statement for the organisation, and all divisions, departments, teams etc. contribute towards achieving that. Otherwise there is no real alignment and all the parts of the organisation are not working together as a team with a common goal. You can read more on this here.
“Imagine a shell [like the one pictured] populated by eight highly conditioned and trained rowers, but with each rower having a different idea about how to achieve success; how many strokes per minute where optimal and which course the shell should follow […] Many companies are like an uncoordinated shell. They consist of wonderful business units, each populated by highly trained, experienced and motivated executives. But the efforts of the business units are not co-ordinated. At best, the units don’t interfere with each other […] More likely […] the units lose opportunities for even higher performance by failing to coordinate their actions.” From ‘Alignment’ by Robert S Kaplan and David P Norton.
Another issue that causes problems with strategy execution that I have mentioned above is that goals are articulated as actions or projects or initiatives whereas they should be about the outcome or the difference that we expect to see. Start from the end – ask “What’s the change we are trying to incite?”. Then ask “how will we know when we’re there?” then map the path to get from where you are, to where you want to be, identifying the key areas of focus.
“Begin with the end in mind”
Dr Stephen R. Covey
One of the biggest stumbling blocks I have come across relates to the language being used to describe the goals or objectives within a strategy. Everyone must have the same understanding of what you are trying to achieve and therefore the language you use to describe these goals or objectives should not leave them open to individual interpretation.
This can happen when the goals are written using ‘weasel’ words like efficient, effective, quality, high value and, my favourite at the moment, world-class. So ensure that your strategy uses words that have no ambiguity and everyone shares the same understanding of what you are working together to achieve.
Once a strategy has been created, it should not be communicated by a thick document that someone would need to wade through, marking pages and taking notes in order to understand what it is saying.
It could be a single page – perhaps the Strategy Map developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton as part of the Balanced Scorecard Framework, or the Results Map used by Stacey Barr in her PuMP approach to performance measurement. Each of these lets you see, at a glance, what the organisation wants to achieve and how it will get there – the cause and effect paths. You could simply draw a picture showing the key areas on the organisation’s journey to achieving its goal. There is no right and no wrong way to represent the strategy. You need to decide what works for your organisation. Read more on this here
If you’re interested in finding out more about setting a strategy to change the course of your business or would like some help with your current strategy, get in touch