What is strategy? And is it even relevant any more?
Back in ye old days of 2019: Strategy was relatively clear cut, and made a lot of sense – you got your team together (or dedicated some quality time if you are a solo-entrepreneur) and mapped out where you wanted to be in the future. Depending on how you approached it, maybe took some actions or filed it to be reviewed at next years meeting – as everyone is on the same page – right?…. Et voila!
Now, in 2021 I feel we need to approach things a little different. Having a goal as to where you want your business to be in the future is great – but I don’t agree this is a strategy – this is a goal. The strategy is the how to achieve the goal. This is what is going to make us successful in 2021.
By breaking our goals down into achievable timebound actions, we can have the ability to be agile, change in the market place as needed, whilst continuing to be true to our brand and long term goal. Bitesize pieces help us to not get overwhelmed with what is ahead of us to have world domination – lets break it down to one city at a time ?.
Bitesize pieces allow us to see what works where, and what doesn’t. What needs improving, or needs a completely different approach.
Strategy is something a business is always ‘told’ to do at the start of the year…. But I would ask why? A strategy should be already in place, and you should be periodically revisiting it at least every quarter, if not more often in this tumultuous times. In doing this, you as the business leader can identify the strengths of your business, and see where improvements can be made. A strategy is not and should not be a once a year activity – if it is, it’s going to be super hard for your business to grow and be successful.
Have you mapped out your goals?
Take a moment, breathe, in 5 years where do you want your business to be? This can be as grand as you want, or as basic as you want. You are the business leader…. Reach for the stars and you might just land on the moon!
This step itself can be quite a challenge for some people, we become a bit modest, and shy – you don’t need to share with anyone if you don’t want, or you can share parts only with your team, its up to YOU. A tool that is great for this is vision boarding
Disclaimer: I personally don’t believe in exit plans, or the term exit plan – as if you plan this from the start, you will not contribute fully to the business. Business develops, and you may be absorbed by a bigger organisation, which can be part of your plan, but to do this you need to develop the business to its full potential. You will need an action plan or strategy.
The beauty of all this is no matter the size of your business, the process is the same. A solo-entrepreneur will work through the steps themselves. A larger business with a leadership team should really work through the process together. The Business Leader explaining where they see the 5 year goal to be, but listening to the team around them: BUY IN! A team not consulted, or on board with the business goal will not a successful strategy make.
Now you have where you want your business to be in 5 years, how are you going to make this happen? What will you need to do? Do you want to go international? Do you need to find new manufacturing capability? How are you going to achieve this?
Break your 5 year objective into 5 steps. If you do A in year 1, this will enable you to achieve B in year 2, which will enable you to achieve C in year 3 and so on until your objective is achieved by year 5! Your team can help brainstorm on how to achieve these milestones and actions. *I use the term milestone, as that is timebound.
Using this frame work – how will you achieve A? what needs to happen? Do you need to scale up? Do you need to skill up? Do you need help? By breaking A into absolute tasks that are timebound (milestones again) we can keep ourselves from being overwhelmed, and can be adaptive to the market.
What is important is to WRITE ALL THIS DOWN. You need to be able to see the end goal and the journey of steps and milestones you will be complete to get there. If you don’t, but just keep it in your head, how will you convey to employees, to potential investors. Equally important, how will you review, see if you are on track? Make adjustments?
You can use some great tools to do this….
It would be easy to get overwhelmed when making your business strategy for the first time, or reviewing again in this current climate – but this is something that helps to create a successful business. Having the details mapped out with timeframes and assigned to people in an easily reviewable format can really keep you on track, and help identify any areas of concern.
I find a vision board and real blue ocean thinking is great for long term thinking. This should be something you cannot achieve soon or quickly but should take some time and efforts to get there. I also come up with wild ideas when out for a run or walk, so carry a pen and paper (old school) to jot down ideas. Do you have a vision? This is different from a mission, but if you have that already it can help to direct your thinking.
Pinterest is a good app that can help with this, and you can update it regularly. Just remember to take screen shots of it, so you can share with your team where appropriate.
Mapping the Strategy
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & R. Mauborgne
Strategy Maps by R. Kaplan & D. Norton (not an easy read, but some good tips)
The Strategy Book by Dr M. McKeown (a personal fav, follow him on LinkedIn for some great tips and inspirational videos). Includes a poster template to build out your strategy.
Mind Map Mastery by T. Buzan (great book, if you want to be good at mind mapping!)
My personal recommendation is to map out on paper by yourself or with your team using COLOUR, ideas flow more and connections can be made when we bring colour into our lives. This can then be transferred into a mindmap app.
MindMeister – I have used the free version, pretty intuitive, and you can screen shot and share.
MindManager – I like this one and use frequently, only the free version for me I find is enough, however if you are working with a team then the paid versions may be more applicable.
I keep a copy on my desk top (computer) and have a placeholder in my calendar to review every 1 month (recurring).
These applications also allow you to share the maps, add actions which go directly to action plan lists with deadlines and assigned person. This makes it super easy to review and understand if you are on track or not.
You have your strategy, long term goal. You have it broken down into quarterly actions which are manageable and are assigned to individuals. You built this with your leadership team and it has been communicated to all your employees. Everyone knows the direction of the business and where you want to be in the next 5 years or so…… so what now? The work is done – so go have a cup of tea! ?
In the words of the Carpenters ‘We’ve only just begun….’.
Depending on your business size, how you review and keep this momentum will differ. The key point; no matter what the size of the business is, if everyone is on the same page, have bought into the long term goal and the bitesized actions, then really this becomes part of their day to day focus and projects of everyone. These shouldn’t be additional workload – your bitesized actions are the workload and direction, possibly the changes that need to happen to the business to reach the next level, achieve that new contract. If they are not being worked on, then the individual who is assigned as the owner of that action has not bought into the goal and action plan. It would be prudent to understand why, listening and empathy can really help to get employees, no matter the level engaged.
How can you spot this?
The reviews. I know, I have been, some might say preaching about this all week, but from experience, if you don’t review and someone is not following on their actions it can be to the detriment of the whole business. As the business leader you need to be ontop of this. Then next year, when you revisit the strategy you will assign the same actions all over again.
What should reviews look like?
They can be in the form of a KPO, or simply a project update. If you have monthly team meetings or a regular meeting, I would always start by the key people updating on their actions – people need to be accountable, but at the same time feel supported. It is important, especially in this current climate to make sure we have a safe space for people, things change, home schooling impacts productivity, people may have sick days – that’s ok, and its important to pass the message that that’s ok whilst we continue to move in the same direction and keep communicating.
Communication is key to all of this, you and your team should always be talking about goals, new ideas, brainstorming. Its empowering to you and your teams.
I have some bad news for you.
You will probably never achieve that 5yr goal. There I said it…. I’m sorry to have to break this new to you. But, it’s actually a good thing. Let me explain.
As you go on this journey of direction and adaptation, there really is no final destination. It will evolve, it will adapt further and each time your review your strategy you will make some small, and sometimes larger changes. This is good, this is what is meant to happen. A static strategy is not a strategy for success, but in my opinion a strategy for failure. As you have annual reviews, you perhaps even see your 5 year goal changing, becoming more ambitious, changing direction, and you should be comfortable with that.
Strategy is all about change and embracing change in the organisation. Don’t be afraid of change, it is what can keep your business successful!