Strategy is usually the first thing on your mind when you’ve just taken on a new leadership role. After you’ve completed your 30-60-90 day plan, you’re energized to figure out the right strategy to move forward with. Awesome.
Too often though, even though you know strategy is important, it’s not always top-of- mind when you’ve been in your position for a while or you’re fighting fires on an almost daily basis.
Those fires can be non-stop. It may be apologizing profusely to an angry consumer for mistakes made from your end, running around to make sales for the quarter so you can hit bonus, or negotiating price increases with a key customer after they’ve flat out rejected it.
If you’re knee deep in the everyday running of the business, chances are you don’t have much time to step back and think about strategy. If that’s the case, take note. Here are 5 big clues your business strategy needs a reboot.
Clue # 1: You’re Not Achieving Business Results
Nothing tends to cause more panic in the boardroom than missed financial targets. It may be a forgivable short-term blip but if you find you’re always reacting with short-term tactics and you’re still not making the numbers, it’s time to rethink your long term strategy.
Takeaway: If you’re consistently missing financial targets, revisit your strategy to verify it’s still the right direction.
Clue # 2: Your Strategy Is Comprised Of Financial Targets and a Looong List of Initiatives
When working with new clients, we sometimes conduct a knowledge audit and ask for the most recent strategy documents. Once in a while, the response is “Well, we have a plan but it’s based mostly on financials.” This is understandable if you’re a small company or a start-up but, even then, if you have BIG aspirations for growth, you need a strategy, not just a plan.
What’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?
They’re often used interchangeably since both are focused on achieving goals. If your plan is actually based on a strategy, no worries. However, a plan tends to be narrow in focus and more concrete with all the steps mapped out. It’s great for keeping you on track.
On the other hand, strategy is taking a step back, looking at the big picture, and making tough choices on how to uniquely position your organization for success.
In a nutshell, they sound like this:
PLAN: Our plan is to launch Product XYZ by ABC timing with JWN retailer.
STRATEGY: Our strategy is to maintain a premium positioning in the market. Implementing this strategy means we choose not to distribute our line through WMT retailer.
Takeaway: If your strategy is comprised of financial targets and a long list of initiatives, you may have a plan not a strategy. It’s time to map out a solid strategy to achieve those BIG aspirations.
Clue # 3: Disruption Is Coming (Or Is Here Already)…and You’re Not Sure What To Do
Chances are your market has been disrupted or will be very soon. Whether that’s cannabis becoming mainstream, AI and the rise of robots, or retail re-invention, you can be sure the competition or some Gen Y start-up is hankering to gain share, the same share you hoped to gain.
We’ve talked about disruption in our blog many times so there’s no need to dwell on this.
If there was a place to yell, yelling about disruption would be it.
Far too often, complacency sets in. It sounds like: “We have strong growth, own the lion’s share in a premium segment, and have great margins. Things are good.”
Well, guess what? That’s EXACTLY the kind of business that’s ripe for disruption.
The thing is, we KNOW this. We know what the unstoppable macro trends are. We know technology is on steroids. So why does it seem like so many companies have simply scrubbed off last year’s plans and made minor tweaks without addressing disruptive forces in the market?
Let’s embrace disruption. Leverage this HUGE opportunity in your favour.
Small steps to get you started:
- First, don’t let another company disrupt you. Disrupt yourselves first. What are all the disruptors that could impact your market?
- Second, align on a view of the future with your leadership team and figure out all of the ‘so what’ questions and answers for your business.
- Third, build action steps into your strategy.
Takeaway: If you’re not clear on the impact of disruption on your business, it’s time to take a step back, conduct a disruption audit, and incorporate the implications into your strategy.
Clue # 4: There’s No Focus. Priorities Are Not Clear.
One of the biggest clues your strategy needs a reboot is hearing people complain about lack of focus and prioritization.
‘We have too many priorities. There’s not enough time to do everything that needs to be done.’
It’s in our nature to want to do everything, and be all things to all people. That way, all the bases are covered and you don’t have to make choices. However, Michael Porter, founder of The Monitor Group and economic and strategy theorist, brilliantly said:
“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”
I would also add that it’s about being clear about what you’re not going to do, as much as what you are going to do.
Takeaway: There is power in making clear choices. It’s tough but those choices are essential to great strategy.
Clue # 5: Not Everyone Is Buying In To Your Existing Strategy
Have you ever been in a meeting where people are trying to agree on an important business decision and the conversation is simply going in circles?
See Clue # 4. The strategy may not be clear because clear strategic choices make decision making easier. If this is not the case, the root cause could be that the strategy is being challenged.
Never underestimate the importance of gaining alignment on the strategy from the whole organization. Assuming the strategy was co-created and approved by everyone, the issue is usually not at the senior leadership level.
Buy-in needs to cascade through all levels until everyone in the organization is crystal clear on the strategy. It’s human behaviour. When people have a chance to provide their input and feedback, the chances of buy-in are much higher.
As an aside, as the strategy cascades throughout the organization, ensure the articulation of it is simple and clear. OGSMs (Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Measures) are great functionally but less effective in retaining the key messages you want people to focus on.
Takeaway: Co-creating, vetting, and aligning on the strategy with the leadership team are critical to success. It’s equally important to gain buy-in throughout all levels of the organization so ensure buy-in is part of the strategic process.
Great strategy leads to great business results. If your business is growing, strategy is clear, priorities are focused, potential disruption is addressed, and everyone in the organization is on board, you’re on the right track.
But if this doesn’t ring true, your strategy may need a reboot.