Our very own strategy expert Lee-anne Knight explains what strategy is and why it’s so fundamental in the success of a business. 

In my early working life a friend and I explored starting a business together – who hasn’t? As experts in our fields we thought all we needed to do was develop a business plan, kick off some marketing activity and hit the ground running. And while we picked up some work, and even had repeat business, we didn’t grow. Why? In hindsight, and with 30+ years of learning and business experience under my belt, that answer is obvious: Success starts and ends with strategy.

Why do I need a strategy?

If the term ‘strategic direction’ rings a bell, it’s because managers and leaders like to use it when they’re talking about growth, expansion or product to stakeholders. But dig a little deeper and you will find many organisations don’t have a strategy. While I’d love to tell you that my business partner and I went on to develop a bold strategy that helped us become widely successful, we were one of those organisations that were more aspirational than directional. As founders we didn’t have consensus on our core goals or measurements of success, so we couldn’t communicate a vision or forward-looking plan to our customers or ourselves. Goodbye company. 

Strategy isn’t just an ideal. It’s the grunt work, the thinking and the planning to help you get to where you want to be. It's a process that helps you prioritise goals, understand risks, align on focus areas, and identify resource needs to drive that success. Even if a fire-drill pulls you elsewhere, your strategy will help you stay focused on your longer term goals.

What makes a good strategy?

A strategy is made up of two things: a vision that’s underpinned by a robust and simple plan.

The strategic vision

The Einstein quote: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself” perfectly sums up just how simple your vision should be. It should provide a lens on a desired future state, a place the company aspires to be, is clear and can be measured. 

When Salesforce formed in 1999 its vision was to rapidly create a world-class internet company for sales automation. It was simple and a vision that people could (and did) buy into. And the thing about visions is they don’t have to stay the same. How many times do you think Salesforce has evolved its vision since 1999? Many. Don’t be afraid to reset and adjust plans to ensure the evolution of your strategy is built on the right things.

The strategic plan

A plan, or roadmap, consists of clear, actionable, prioritised and measurable milestones, that if met, help you achieve your strategy. Potential roadblocks are also included in the plan, with risk and mitigation approaches in place. And when the road gets bumpy, the plan helps you stay the course when going off road can seem like the easier path to follow. It’s not to say a plan can’t change, but it shouldn’t be the starting point. The COVID-19 pandemic is an extreme example of when changing course would be the right choice to make. When the pandemic disrupted Salesforce’s 3-5 year strategy, along with businesses worldwide, we were able to adjust our localised plans and approaches for the short-term, but also hold onto our bigger picture vision.

Strategy isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon

The point of a well thought out strategy is to have a roadmap to your goals, that if achieved, deliver exceptional results. So why would you rush that? When developing a strategy you need to look past your default setting of instant gratification and be in it for the long-haul. A good strategy may take several years to achieve and require adjustments along the way. Have a plan, keep it simple, and most importantly – stick to it.

A practical guide to creating a vision

If you’re at the starting point of your strategy journey, Game Storming have designed an open-ended, creative thinking exercise called Cover Story. The point of the game is to challenge your team to create a best case scenario and take it one step further into a fantastical future. Best run with a diverse group of people, the goal is to not get stuck in reality – think big and create a widely successful future! Here’s what the Cover Story concept includes: 
 

 

  • ‘Cover’ tells the BIG story of their success.

  • ‘Headlines’ convey the substance of the cover story.

  • ‘Sidebars’ reveal interesting facets of the cover story.

  • ‘Quotes’ can be from anyone as long as they’re related to the story.

  • ‘Brainstorm’ is for documenting initial ideas for the cover story.

  • ‘Images’ are for supporting the content with illustrations.

 

The Cover Story exercise is a great way to encourage blue sky thinking and set you and your team on a path to building a solid strategy and plan designed to deliver on your goals. For more information on how to run the exercise visit the Game Storming website.

Don’t wait to start creating your strategy when something goes wrong, start now to ensure your company doesn’t exit stage right like mine did. 

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