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Strategy: What is it anyway?

Over the years I have seen so many leaders end the year frustrated and tired that, after all their effort, there is little or no result. Despite the hours of meetings and conversations, the late nights, the early mornings, and all the thinking that was applied to figure out how to get the work done, nothing happened.

In his book, Rumsfeld’s Rules, Donald Rumsfeld defines strategy as “a general plan of action fashioned to achieve a major goal. It is the process by which goals are prioritized and resources marshaled to achieve those goals. Tactics are used to implement the strategy.” He further states that “without the discipline and time invested in strategic planning, one of two things is likely to happen: 1.) Your organization will be buffeted by outside events and forced to be reactive, or 2.) it will stay on autopilot, propelled by the inertia of policies and plans that were decided months or years before.”

These are sage words of clarity and advice. As a junior executive early in my career, I was once told: “A lot of effort with no result equals no result.” So, why do so many leaders fall short of their annual dreams and goals? Why do so many team members get frustrated with their leaders about doing projects that get in the way of the work they need to do and ultimately have no real meaning?

It’s like we are all dancing around the mythical land of Howlandia (Read our post about this place).

As an executive, I have spent countless hours in strategic planning sessions, where beautiful binders—yes, real 3-ring binders—were forged, placed on a shelf, and forgotten until the end of the year when most leaders provided the countless emergencies, challenges, and opportunities that got in the way of that “strategy stuff.” Like organ rejection, these 3-ring binders were in the way of the work vs. being the way of the work.

For this and numerous other reasons, including, “we are too small,” “we don’t have enough resources,” “the dog ate my plan,” etc., most leaders fall back on a strategy so broad that everyone has an interpretation of it, or simply having no strategy at all. Without a plan, you are stuck drifting and left with interpretations left with others’ visions of “the most important.” Has this happened to you? Most of my clients have had an experience within one of these two realms or have tried to self-implement a strategic planning program with limited success. This is never from the lack of effort, intelligence, or creativity.

So, what exactly is strategy, and what is a strategic plan? I consider the following 4 key components:

  • Budget
  • Initiatives
  • Metrics
  • Projects

These elements need to be consolidated into a single, clear, and concise document and shared with the entire organization. Each is influenced by two horizontal forces: the past and the future. The future is led by a vision for the company, and the past informs the results of past effort.

With some candid preparation time, the business owner and the leadership team can answer questions that set the foundation for a deeper annual planning day. During this day, clarity is gained around on what “the most important” is and why. No time for talking through how the business will implement it; that is left to the individuals owning the projects each quarter to figure out.

If you have ever avoided or failed developing and implementing a strategic plan, I encourage you to try again. When you have clarity, alignment, and enrollment around the most important things for your business, you can realize results beyond your wildest dreams.

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