“What you need is a strategy.”
It’s a catch-cry many business owners have heard and probably spent many hours pondering. What exactly is a strategy? And how do you develop a good one? The Oxford Dictionary defines a strategy as “A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”.
So while the term ‘strategy’ might strike fear into the hearts of business owners and managers, most people have developed many – both in their personal and business lives. Saving for a house, training for a sporting event, designing and planting a garden, employee a new resource, choosing what to outsource all require, or are part of a strategy – a plan of how to get from point A to point B.
For those who enjoy business jargon, the ‘strategy’ is the overarching bridge between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. The ‘strategic plan’ is the finer detail of how exactly you’re going to build that bridge. Taking the bridge analogy further, there are many different bridges, arch, suspension, cantilever, girder, just to name a few. So too there are many strategies that you could develop for your business. The challenge is to decide which one will maximum the benefits and minimise the pitfalls as it leads you to your destination.
The first challenge is to create an inspiring goal – or vision – one that is challenging, yet motivating and achievable. This has to come first. IBM’s founders had a clear idea of how their ‘finished’ business would be structured, and they used this blueprint to develop the business. But many business owners and managers find it difficult to imagine what their business might look like in the future.
The most beautiful thing about visions and strategies and planning is that you don’t have to imagine taking over the world and you don’t have to write hundreds of pages of ‘strategy’. If you’re finding it difficult to make a ten-year or a five-year plan, scale it back. Start with one year or even six months. Quite simply, just start imagining.
Consider involving your staff in brainstorming where the business could go. No doubt you’ll come up with many destinations. In fact, you might be surprised at how much thought your staff have about the business and how excited they are to have the opportunity to contribute to developing it.
Starting with the end result in mind is crucial because it not only motivates, it creates focus. This is especially so if you link staff performance appraisals to smaller goals – or milestones – on the road to your ultimate destination. This forces everyone to prioritise.
Anything that’s unimportant falls away. You’ll carefully consider how each and every decision will impact achieving the vision. Suddenly there isn’t enough time to do anything other than those things that draw you closer to your goal.
And guess what? What’s left when all the non-priorities fall away is the essence of your strategy and your strategic plan. Forget definitions and business jargon. Focus on the vision for the business. Decide the best approach to get you for where you are now to where you want to be. Let all else fall away and you’ve got your blueprint for the future . . . or if you prefer, a good strategy and a great strategic plan.
Next week: We’ll show you how to write a strategy.