Is your corporate strategic plan missing the most important ingredient – the strategy? Somewhere along the way, it became acceptable within organizations to substitute form over substance in their strategic planning discipline and gloss over the critical component of clearly stating their strategy – the cornerstone of the strategic plan. Is the blatant omission of strategy from a strategic plan due to laziness or ignorance?
Where’s the Strategy?
Perhaps the truth is that both laziness and ignorance are factors to blame for unstated strategies. In order to succinctly state your strategy, you must first have one. It is surprising just how many do not have a defined strategy. Assuming that a strategy does exist, it should explainable in a simple statement or two. Very few organizations can do that. Even a more detailed statement of strategy should fit on a single page. That sounds simple, but there is widespread confusion on the very definitions of strategy and strategic planning in most organizations.
Get board members and executives together to explain their perspective on strategy and see for yourself what happens. It quickly becomes apparent that disconnects exist all over the place, primarily related to explaining the definition of strategy within the context of their organization and the detailed differences between strategy development and strategic planning. Let’s chalk these common points of confusion up to ignorance – but not judge them to harshly, as they are very common misperceptions that exist in the business world. So what about the laziness factor?
Laziness is probably not the correct way to label this factor. It is probably more accurately labeled something like “sloppiness”. Most would agree that schedules in the business environment are frantic at best. The pace of change and uncertainty we must deal with requires that business leaders define and evolve their plans while the organization is in full motion. When time is of the essence, committing that extra effort to defining the strategy gets whacked from the agenda. That still creates a huge problem though, as the evolutionary progress of the strategic plans must be anchored to an overall business strategy. Most strategic plans are not. Yes, executives must be able to react to risks and opportunities as they appear, but that must be done while making choices that support a consistent corporate strategy. Managers and employees of the organization need the anchor a strategy provides to avoid drifting off with the tide.
A Strategy Can and Should Be Simple, Allowing For Flexibility and Adaptability
Statement of strategy requires work in order to make the outcome elegantly simple and to the point. That is what is required for it to be embodied into the strategic goals of the organization and the tactics of execution.
“Our strategy is to _____ by offering _____, at a cost that brings value to our customers unmatched by our competition through ___ and ____.”
While being simple in structure, the strategy statement must also anticipate the need for adaptability. Too much specificity in the statement will undermine flexibility down the road. To look at a real-life example, examine Southwest Airline’s strategy. It has never been a big secret to their competitors or overly complex in its design.
The airline’s strategy?
“To attract commuters into the air by offering frequent flights from convenient airports at a cost commensurate with overland transport.”
Clearly state your strategy as the cornerstone of your strategic plan. Do so in simple and to the point language. From there, lay out the tactics of accomplishing strategy, follow through with a brutal focus on execution.