The first question in creating a business strategy is deceptively simple. What do you want?
Creating a strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. The process only gets complicated when you put the cart before the horse, and focus on what you can or should do:
“We need to do a better job on social media.”
“We need a new website.”
“We need to add a second shift in the plant.”
As I discussed in Three Levers, a long list of priorities overwhelms the strategic planning process and hinders performance.
To streamline your strategy development start with the most important question. What do you want?
Clear Thinking Drives Results
Richard Rumelt writes in Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, “Strategy involves focus and, therefore, choices. And choice means setting aside some goals in favor of others. When this hard work is not done, weak amorphous strategy is the result.”
One my clients is an industrial distributor, and their 2017 goal is called “Never Late.” Never Late is their rallying cry. The objective is to eliminate late deliveries.
This isn’t an easy goal. The company has more than doubled in size in three years, and their on course to double again to $40 million in the next two years. As a result, they’re busting at the seams. They’re outgrowing their warehouses, their systems, and their capacity.
Never Late is a strategy to improve the company’s efficiency and capacity, but it also emphasizes what the company wants. Never Late means “never disappointing a customer.”
When we started the strategic planning process the management team carefully considered the question, “What do we want?” By the metrics they were strong. The management team had clear revenue objectives, but what they really wanted was less tangible.
At the planning session the CEO said, “I don’t ever want to disappoint a customer again.” This declaration became the thrust of the strategic plan. We considered how the company delighted its customers, how it let down some customers, and what it did brilliantly.
As we worked through “What do you want?” it became clear. Growth that harms customer service is unacceptable. We had to bolster operations and logistics first. Everything else could wait.
By clearly framing what they wanted, the leadership team created a focused strategy that is delivering tangible results. The entire company knows what it’s trying to achieve, and everyone can see the progress week by week.
Clarity Requires Honesty
“What do you want?” should be a simple question, but it gets complicated. It’s easy to question or doubt if what you want is really what you want.
Your “want statement” might not seem big enough, ambitious enough, or glamorous enough. It might not be aspirational or motivating. But that doesn’t matter.
The key to creating a good strategy is to be honest with yourself and your team:
- What do you want?
- Why do you want it?
Answer these questions first, and the strategy will follow. You’ll know what you’re working towards, and you can develop the plan to achieve it.
What do you think?
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