February 7, 2020
Everybody who creates a business strategy faces the strategy/pivot dilemma: Times are uncertain, events and assumptions are moving quickly, or a crisis is hitting fast. So the big question is: “What do we need a strategy for if we’re pivoting all the time or if it will quickly become obsolete?”
If you follow such an approach, however, you will quickly be lost, especially if you’re running a larger organization. As the “philosopher” and Major League Baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
In fast-changing times, we need a “sweet spot” of strategy, something that has enough specificity to provide a deep and clear direction but also is easy enough to communicate. In this sweet spot, there is strategy that is powerful enough to overcome difficult times.
We can best develop and execute such strategy by relying on three “powers” of rapid strategy creation:
The first step in this process is to create a framework. All key leaders in the organization need to be versed in and agree on the process of creating the strategy. There is not one magic formula, but it’s important that you have a formula. When I guide executive teams through a strategy process, I typically use these six areas as a framework:
Define the core vision. Write down in one sentence, or tweet, what you want to accomplish. Here, techniques such as brain writing can help enormously to get different perspectives.
From there, define one or two core metrics. How will you know that you are successful? Is it a monetary goal or something else, like a quality measure? What is the one number that you are after, and that supports the vision above? It’s the answer to the question: How do you know that you won?
Define three to seven key techniques, actions, and focus areas. How will you reach these areas? Where do you have to focus to achieve this? These are big focus areas. If it is a massive flow, it will be difficult.
Assess and focus your resources. What is your focus in terms of how you will get there? In ancient military terms, these were your strengths areas. What will you leverage? What are your unique strengths?
Figure out what not to do. Defining three to five areas and being held accountable for those is absolutely key. I cannot stress this enough. It’s easy to say that you will focus on strategy one, two, or three. It’s hard to say no to number four when it slowly walks in the door. But saying no is part of strategy.
Define how you will measure that you are on the right path. This is where strategy and operations meet. It is the plan for the foreseeable future identifying the specific items and concrete next steps from this strategy that will be tackled.
Once you’ve decided on a framework for your strategy process, you can concentrate on speed. Here, the term “rapid strategy creation” already offers a hint: Create a first draft of your strategy as quickly as possible. Then follow the same time-boxing methods that make hackathons successful: producing something in a short time.
I call these iterations Stratethons—a very fast-paced development of the six key strategy areas. Always create the first draft of each of the six steps without much discussion, so that there is some kind of prototype. Then discuss this prototype. It takes a team only +/- a day to define the six fields.
Going quickly is extremely important, as strategy discussions can easily fall apart and create endless side discussions. The combination of the power of frameworks and the power of speed helps take this issue off the table.
Everybody who creates a strategy has fundamentally two options: have the strategy done as a long-term analysis by experts or tap into the wisdom of the crowd. Consider two things:
There are significant reasons for reaching out externally—for example, if you are seeking information on entering a new geography or advice on technical strategy. However, if your focus is on seeking internal alignment, then you’re better off with an internal wisdom process. It’s more rewarding, much more efficient, much faster, and costs less.
My experience is that when it comes to strategy, it’s often not the knowledge that is missing. What’s missing is alignment. The best way to create alignment is via rapid strategy creation. There is also no better way to generate buy-in than by having employees co-create the strategy so they can see how the process came to life.
When you tap into internal wisdom, who should be there? That really depends on the type of strategy you’re creating. In general, I recommend that these key players be included:
At least two-thirds to three-quarters of the people represented should be those who will work with the strategy on a daily basis. Otherwise this group rapidly creates something that is out of touch with business reality. But having some outsiders can add that special touch of external input that is valuable when looking at a company’s direction. This combination brings a true diversity of thought.
Strategy is, of course, not a one-time event, and the processes above need to be repeated regularly. But they will ensure that the daily work and decisions are linked to your strategy. As you quickly review and pivot the strategy, it will remain valid, fresh, and relevant.