Jump starting your strategy can be a challenge. Things change and shift. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin and what you should focus on in an environment where…
- Everything’s important.
- Nothing is as important as our growth initiative.
- Forget growth, we need to manage our competitiveness in the marketplace.
- What we had thought was really important now isn’t important at all.
It’s helpful to start small and short; meaning don’t worry about three years down the road, especially in this environment. For the moment, think short term. Just because something can be done quickly doesn’t mean it can’t contribute to strategy. If you can choose to accomplish some immediate, focused goals that put you on a solid path to achieving meaningful progress toward your future, you will be well positioned for longer term strategy later.
There are a variety of different ways to jump start your strategy but the overarching concept is that you employ agile strategy. That means that you go from looking at the really big goals to trying to achieve many meaningful smaller shifts. The second part is that you choose strategic directives based on comparing different paths you could take. If you are making conscious choices between two or three alternatives, you are asking the organization to consider distinct and different potential outcomes. Having to make deliberate choices means you are confronting different possibilities for the organization. And, upon choosing a direction from different options, it is more evident that your processes, resources and time should be aligned in order to achieve the outcome you choose.
In a standard strategic planning cycle, people come together to decide how to spread the peanut butter. Meaning, they make some decisions that are probably not comparative, they are simply iterations of the same previous strategy. After they have set their direction, they allocate resources and time across every discipline with only minor tweaks and adjustments. And, if everything is going well, this might not be a bad approach. But there should be an acknowledgment that it will not result in anything new. The team should know that they are sticking with the status quo.
But if the organization is looking to really make a transformative change, this type of strategy and resource allocation won’t give them what they are looking for. If the organization needs to respond to new demands or sees a shift in their market that they want to get ahead of, strategy with ‘more of the same’ will not move them anywhere. At the end of the day, strategy is about choices.
The First Goal
The first goal is to decide what you will accomplish and what strategic purpose it will serve. Make sure it is a stretch but also realistic. You could approach it from a very high, fable-format as the great writer Leo Tolstoy once wrote about. Or, perhaps, if you are less inclined towards allegory and more towards organizational progress, answer the following questions for your organization:
- Have we or will we experience any major changes in how we deliver to our market place, how our customers and vendors respond to us and what our environment will look like in the future? What are they? What will we need to do to meet those changes?
- What will we need to be able to accomplish in the future that we aren’t doing now?
- What do we have enough of, what do we need more of, what don’t we need at all?
Ask these questions of your entire organization. It’s easy to do with a quick survey and you’ll find out if leadership and everyone else is aligned. You also will get an insight into what others see as areas for improvement. Share the results. Again, bring your organization ‘with you’.
And finally, after you’ve done this and you have answers to your questions, answer the most important question of all:
"Do we have the courage to do what the answers to these questions lead us to do?"
If the answer to this final question is yes, then begin to frame your next actions in the following 90 days according to the answers from the previous three questions. If new or bold directions emerge, make sure everyone understands what it will take to accomplish those new initiatives. Remember that there will be dissatisfaction. Develop communication to address that. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Transparency is very important in order to achieve buy-in from the organization. Accept the fact that not everyone will be happy. That is a natural byproduct of making choices.
The Second Goal
The second goal after defining what you will accomplish is to ensure you shift resources and alter structure (if necessary) to in order to achieve your priorities. You will undoubtedly have several things you want to accomplish. What should be done first? Can we do other things concurrently?
If you are looking to adapt to a change in the way your market is moving, you must ask your organization to make a choice and then shift the resources and the structure of the organization to be able to respond.
How should you prioritize? Every organization does it differently. Here are some more questions to ask yourselves:
- Is it directly relevant to what helps you stay strategically successful and serve customers?
- Is it a major initiative on which other initiatives are dependent?
- Is it ‘low hanging fruit’ or something that is relatively fast/easy/not resource intensive to execute?
To illustrate with an example, let’s say in answering the previous question about what you need more of, you discovered that you not only don’t have the right capacity to deal with customer requests and concerns, you also are lacking in the right talent and skill sets. Your first priority is to shift your resources to meet those needs. This could mean that a new product launch or investment in infrastructure will have to take a backseat to your people initiative. Because without the right people in place, it won’t matter how many great products you have, you won’t be able to support them. You may also need to re-align your teams to meet specific customer requests. More and more, organizations are turning to cross-functional organizations to ensure agility and responsiveness to customers.
The Third Goal
The third goal is to make a sure you move the organization to execution. You have 90 days. Focused effort can make it happen. But only if you are keeping your eye on progress daily and weekly. Key decision makers should be involved with key action makers, regularly reviewing what’s happening, where the schedule is falling down and what decisions need to be made to advance progress on the priorities.
- Make a schedule of action plans
- Ensure you have the right culture
- Choose leaders
- Put measurements in place
- Be ready to adapt
- Move concurrently
Communicate this plan and have a mechanism or tool to monitor it on a regular (daily) basis. What gets measured gets watched. What gets watched improves. As above, the plan should stretch you but not beyond what’s realistic. If you make your goals too difficult, people will get discouraged. If you make your goals too easy, you probably aren’t going to get meaningful results.
What is important is to marshal all efforts to achieving what you set out to do. Why is that important? When people see that they set out to do something in a certain time-frame and they achieve it, it’s a powerful motivator for the next set of goals. Success breeds success. It also shows people you’re serious about making change happen. You are more likely to be able to ‘sell’ the next set of initiatives even if they are a little painful.
Just because goals are short term doesn’t mean they aren’t strategic. Many short term, quick wins can be very strategic. Remember that if you prime the organization to move toward a new direction, the most important example to set is to actually accomplish what you set out to do.