How do we get it done? What’s our next move? Now that we know what we want and why we’re here, where do we begin? You’ve likely heard variations of these questions in your organization—particularly if you’re at any level of planning how to achieve favorable outcomes.
It’s one thing to know why you’re doing something, who you’re selling to, or even what makes your product or service better than the next guy’s. But, until you can adequately and effectively answer for how, your idea, product, sales, or whatever you endeavor to achieve may not become all you hope for.
The biggest how you can ask begs for a coherent approach. It means building a distinct advantage toward a favorable end. This level of “How?” is best answered with strategy.
Strategy exists to solve problems. Often, calling upon strategic planning means that your problem is big—significant, complex, and with higher-than-average stakes.
Planning without strategy is like feeling around in the dark. You may eventually find what you’re looking for, but it will most certainly be unpredictable, take longer than anticipated, and you run a greater risk of falling on your face along the way.
Here are three things you need to know about strategy to adequately answer any big “How?” and to improve your planning process, no matter what the challenge.
Strategy is about choice.
Consider this example: When Steve Jobs returned to a struggling Apple in 1997, one of the first things he chose to do was to stop selling so many products. He put an end to more than 70 percent of Apple’s products (laying off more than 3,000 employees in the process) to focus on a handful of truly innovative products. This hard choice allowed Apple to focus its resources
There’s little doubt that Jobs’ efforts would have been significantly more difficult and unclear if he had not made this critical strategic choice.
Strategy fits between your goals and plans.
- Goals answer, “What is the end
- Plans, which follow strategy, answer, “What are the blueprints for success?”
Strategyis the point in between that answers, “In what way are we going to coordinate our efforts to get there?”
A good example of this hierarchy can be seen in the successful approach of the Allies in World War 2. The goal (the end for the effort) was clearly to win the war, to defeat the Axis powers. At the time, the U.S. was faced with the prospect of a two-front war. Without a clear strategy, plans would undoubtedly be murky. However, the overwhelmingly critical factor was the clear and growing threat of Germany to Europe and Russia. Therefore, the Allies made the critical strategic decision to focus first on taking back Europe and defeat Germany. The resulting plans included the D-Day invasion of Normandy (effectively thwarting a German invasion of Britain) by the U.S., the Allied movement upward from Northern Africa and the Russian forces fighting the German army to the east.
Strategy marries strength with opportunity.
The beauty of strategy is that it coordinates and integrates activities around a common goal. What’s more, good strategy finds the sweet spot where strengths meet opportunity. If you identify an opportunity, yet have no strengths to take
To improve the odds of achieving your goals, your strategy will need to amplify your strengths, while playing to the opportunities at hand. Take for example how Procter & Gamble (P&G) has nearly cornered the consumer
Whatever your challenge, follow these three fundamental principles for better strategic planning. Your strategy will be both clearer and more coherent, and you will be incrementally farther down the road toward more successful outcomes sooner.
Andy Slipher is