Over the course of time and now on a regular basis we are called upon for various services relating to strategies.  Sometimes it to legitimize the mission, other times its to assist with development and deployment.  Whatever the case we rally to the front to professionally service our customer with the highest degree of professionalism, integrity, objectivity and forth right honesty while maintaining the confidentiality.  Of late the scramble, maybe caused by the weakening of business intellect, has created confusion as to what a strategy really is.  This has given way to the use of the term when in effect we are talking about tactics, or the means of achieving strategic goals.  As a case in point I recently saw that a colleague of mine was carrying the title “Content Strategist” for a major N.American computer manufacturer.  What was discovered was not a case of strategy but one of tactics in which the information being evaluated and put forth was used to achieve a more pervasive goal of global presents as a means of gaining/maintaining market dominance.  Wondering for a moment as to why this is taking place I learned that it was a matter of establishing internal brand credibility and to avoid the reality that much of what was being done was actually quite tactical/pragmatic.

Strategies Gone Wild

With template and a team in place the corporate folks embark on a mission to conquer the all important strategy.  ImageAlong the way, and for numerous reasons, the strategy becomes side tracked.  Some of the sins involve,

  • believing that a template will produce content.  Simply a template helps us to acquire the basics but does not mean that there aren’t other aspects and dependencies that must be considered (like risk factors-containment measures-probabilities, secondary and fall back strategies…).   A template is only as good as the template itself and when combined with credible involved parties,
  • Over simplification of effort,
  • Setting goals based solely on present efforts,
  • Producing a strategy that is too lofty, possibly unattainable, and without question being out of touch with present operations,
  • Confusing the “What” with the “How”,
  • Believing that strategies are only for large and complex businesses and does not pertain to every company, government and even individuals,
  • Lack of confidentiality (there should be two strategies; one for internal limited consumption and one for the viewing public… e.g. shareholders, employees and general media release),
  • Strategy governance is not addressed (no… it’s not everyone’s responsibility, specific parties may have specific roles),
  • Failing to consider that a strategy may include people other than the top people in the organization.  Sometimes the best pearls of wisdom come from the innocent and narrow focused segments of the business. , and
  • Strategies that extend beyond the point of credible applicability.

Yes, strategies are important in even their most humble and crude form.  But this does not imply that they should be accepted for what they are and not push the proper level of refinement.   A parent may allow a child to have somewhat crude table manners at home but this does not mean that you don’t advise and develop to have proper behavior in public.

Starting Point

You have three (3) possibilities; fresh “green field” exercise, existing refinement and totally don’t know where to start because there are bits and pieces all over the place.  This last point can be the results of acquisitions, organizational separation or varying lines of business initiatives.  In this particular case you need to assemble, collate (true up) and make ready for the refinement cycle.

Let’s explore a bit about the framework for producing a credible strategy.  The following steps are recommended,

  1. Assemble a strategy development team comprised of members who are chartered with strategy governance.  This usually includes those involved with product/service development and delivery, revenue generation and administration.  The team should be kept purposefully small but will engage others in dialog about ideas, goals and state of ability,
  2. Set the framework and timetable (including knowing when you are done).  All too often this cycle is run in a very laissez faire fashion.  It cannot and should not be a meeting to talk about things and then write it up.  The lack of formality does not sufficiently push the thinking and the visioning, objectivity falls by the wayside in favor of biases and the result becomes a strategy without sufficient achievement credibility.
  3. Achieve positive corporate delivery dynamics, right people-right job-right contribution.  Every company has its skeletons in the closet that raise their ugly heads to put at risk strategies.  The human dynamics with this level of participants is daunting.  I’m sure you heard about how difficult it is to herd cats well imagine for a moment that this herd is all on steroids… that is the batch of participants you have.  Overcoming this proven possible through the use of an unbiased and impartial moderating coach (yes, often a trusted party from outside… “trusted” meaning that the confidentiality details that go on behind closed doors stays behind those doors),
  4. Formulating a roll out plan.  Because of the far reaching effect of strategies a plan needs to be formed.  Its not simply a matter of willing it and it will occur.  Some strategies may take months in order to come into full effect, other strategies may be dependent upon other strategy elements being in place.  Do not, as was mentioned earlier, confuse the how with the what which is the tactical plan.  This brings up an important point to not overlook.  ALWAYS make sure that the approach (aka tactics) have the capability of fulfilling a strategic goal.  It is common to find a disconnect between what we and to have happen and how we plan to make it happen.  Be vigilant to insure connectivity between the “what” and the “how”.  Strong sound strategies occur as a result of the participants, attention to details, facing of realities and insuring objective pre-deployment critical examination.

Okay, What Now?

We have to assume that we produced something that can be called a strategy.  It may be far from perfect, still may have some question as to the legitimacy of the expectations and probably an even more resounding level of uncertainty as to how it can be achieved (tactically).  An important, and seldom practice process, is to critically assess each strategic point on the grounds of probably of achievement, influencing factors and alternative measures.  I once had a CEO say that it sounds to me like the strategy is imperfect.  My response was simply imagesYES.  We all suffer under the delusional belief that what we command will be a reality, otherwise we will be labeled as defeatists.  But when we set goals we must realize that there allot of uncontrollable circumstances that can challenge their attainment.  I harken to an example of a startup that I was involved with that came up with a new and innovational service to an unfilled market place.  Despite sound, credible, visible and engaged efforts it failed to meet expectations, why was that?  It pointed out that consumers, despite value can have potentially over arching priorities that make even the most beneficial products or services invalid in the present context.  The old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” illustrates this point.

Starting the strategy implementation is often putting the ideas into effect.  This may be through an announcement (which is quite common) but more leveled approaches suggest a planned series of tactical implementations.  It is seldom advisable to simply put them all into motion at the same time.  Staging will help to insure that critical strategy elements have or are on their way to being achieved before introducing more change and effort dedication.  At this juncture governance and monitoring are a must…. its far to easy to set wheels into motion expect magic to happen on a particular time certain.

So what happens when strategies start to have declines in success likelihood?  At the very first sign or indication, even if intuitive, immediate action must be taken.  Whether this attention simply means to confirm what is happening, determining what is causing the decline or to intervene and either make changes or shift to alternative plans the need for action is without question.  One should be alert the real possibility of paralysis, confusion, procrastination, and even defensiveness.  Put these aside and deal with the matter, without prejudice or malice towards individuals… this will do nothing to achieve the results.

Strategy Success

Success is achieved through a series of milestones.  Awareness that it has been achieved, assess the reliability of the model (what happened may not be what was expected to, especially from external influencers), adjust as deemed appropriate and inject the next series of strategic objectives.  Strategies are living, cyclical exercises that should be carried out in a fluid fashion in order to sustain continuity.  These adjunctive subsequent strategies need to follow the same rules and policies as was suggested earlier in this document.  They are not a separate book but an appendix to a growing encyclopedia of ideals, dreams and ambitions of the business.  Dream big and achieve what is within the capacity to attain strategically!