Neglecting strategy has a real cost. 95% of employees don’t understand their organization’s strategy and 70% of strategic initiatives fail. —Kaplan and Norton. What are you doing about it?
But without a sound strategy, the organization is like a body without a brain—there’s no central intelligence guiding the actions of its parts, leading to conflict, waste, and duplicated effort. Creating strategy can be an intimidating process, however.
As Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management, wrote in Harvard Business Review: “When setting strategy you need to be uncomfortable and apprehensive: True strategy is about placing bets and making hard choices. The objective is not to eliminaterisk but to increase the odds of success.”
If you don’t know where you are going, it is difficult to make decisions about anything else in the business. This applies to everyone from entry-level employees to the CEO. One of the CEO’s key responsibilities is to create the strategy. With a well-developed strategy in place, your organization can act as one in pursuit of a common vision.
However, many CEOs only give lip service to strategy, avoiding the hard work of writing, honing, and sharing a specific strategic plan. The most powerful strategy tool in the CEO’s arsenal is questions. Here are 10 questions to help you develop your company strategy.
The CEO should answer these questions first (2–5 sentences is usually enough), then take the answers to the executive team for feedback. Once the answers are final, you can share them with the company right away or condense the key points into a shorter strategy summary, whichever will best communicate to your workforce.
- WHAT IS THE VISION WE WANT TO OWN?
Explain the idealized view of the world your organization hopes to create. What inspires your stakeholders—customers, employees, shareholders, etc.—to engage with the organization? What difference does it make in their lives?
- HOW IS THE ORGANIZATION GOING TO GROW?
Determine how the organization will grow sustainably, and specify the level of growth you desire. Then explore how you will achieve that growth, such as organic growth, expansion into new markets, development of new products, M&A, and so on.
- WHAT SHOULD THE ORGANIZATION DO MORE OF?
Describe your organization’s greatest strengths as of this moment. What are the foundational elements that you should increase or at least proactively maintain? Do not be afraid to challenge assumptions and conventional wisdom here.
- WHAT SHOULD THE ORGANIZATION QUIT DOING?
Explore processes and activities the organization currently participates in that should be discontinued. What items are hurting organizational focus and consuming resources without creating actual value? These could be anything from an unpromising customer segment you’re pursuing to an internal process that decreases agility. Again, think deeply and challenge your assumptions.
- WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ROADBLOCKS THE ORGANIZATION FACES?
Brainstorm the biggest threats to organizational performance, both external and internal. These may be items the organization has battled historically or issues you believe will worsen soon.
- WHAT COULD DISRUPT OUR ORGANIZATION?
Assess the potential disruptions your organization faces, whether it’s the rise of a strong competitor or the release of a game-changing technology. These are the sudden shifts that could change everything. What will you do about them? Can you initiate any disruptions of your own?
- HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE PRODUCT WE OFFER?
Examine how you can improve the products or services you bring to the market. What product improvements are needed to address competitor plays, market changes, or customer difficulties?
- HOW ARE OUR CUSTOMERS CHANGING AND WHAT MIGHT THEY WANT IN THE FUTURE?
Explore the dynamics of your customer base and the implications for strategy. Bringing in specific examples – such as market research or conversations with customers – lends credibility, but don’t be afraid to synthesize your observations and give your gut take on what your customers might want and need from you in the future.
- HOW WILL WE ENGAGE AND EMPOWER THE TALENT IN OUR ORGANIZATION?
Reflect on how the organization will strategically grow its ability to attract, retain, and capitalize on talent. Think through what the organization currently does well in this domain and what may be missing. Also consider anticipated changes in the level or type of talent required to fulfill the strategic plan.
- HOW DO WE BEST SERVE OUR SHAREHOLDERS?
Explain what the owners of the company expect the business to deliver. It may be cash flow, stock appreciation, or another type of growth. What bearing does this have on strategy?
Once you have created your strategy, ensure that all employees understand it and connect it to their day-to-day execution. When everyone knows where the company is going and how to get there, your performance will improve.
Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs. It’s about deliberately choosing to be different. -Michael Porter