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Strategy: What, not how!

Welcome to HOWlandia, a place of endless possibilities and wandering conversations that feel productive and meaningful but, much like the Hotel California, you can check out but never leave.

The crux of most failed strategies and strategic planning sessions is the emphasis on “how” before the “what” is even clear. We rush off to solutions before we are clear on the opportunity or challenge we are trying to solve.

This is an epidemic of thinking in leaders I have worked with over the last decade. They are “how-solving machines,” which is a superpower that got them to where they are today but will not get them or their organization where they want to go.

In the HBR article “The Top Ten Reasons Strategies Fail” article, the top three reasons are:

  1. Lack of Clarity
  2. Poor Execution
  3. Resistance to Change

Lack of clarity is a clear result of how thinking vs. what thinking. This sets the table for all the remaining reasons for failure.

We often do an exercise in strategic planning called Red Truck. It goes like this: Everyone closes their eyes and imagines a red truck. They then share what they envisioned for their red truck. What we find is that almost everyone has a different or unique spin on what their red truck is, and, as a strategic facilitator, I know the later participants are modifying their responses to be unique. So, what is the lesson learned?

While a Red Truck is concise and clear, and we can all acknowledge that we know what it is, everyone had a different vision of what it actually was. Leave your planning with that much variable understanding and you will fail. 

Poor execution derives directly from the red trucks, and resistance to change is simply a lack of alignment to an unclear or uncommunicated vision of what the organization will be in 3-5 years.

To avoid this place, apply these 4 rules to your strategic planning:

  1. The CEO/Owner defines the most important initiatives the business should focus on in the coming year
  2. The leadership team individually, and then collectively, reviews the past results
  3. The CEO/Owner reviews the vision with the leadership team
  4. The leadership team identifies the projects that must be completed in order to move each initiative forward

Even individual projects demand this level of clarity. Once you have it at the initiatives/strategies level, keep going. Don’t stop. Ruthless clarity is your exit plan from HOWlandia!

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