Most business professionals make strategy much harder than it needs to be, but a successful strategy avoids complication.
Why do most plans fail? They become too complicated to execute.
- For some, the problem is that they focus too much on the tools: environmental scans, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses, customer analyses, competitor analyses, financial modeling, and so on.
- Other people get into trouble because they think it’s all about the broad, conceptual, future-oriented, big picture stuff—not to be confused with tactics.
- Still others think that strategy is what happens when you think about changing directions.
- Realizing a winning strategy is about all those things, because you can’t be successful with analysis alone, or your big picture alone, or changes alone. You have to do a bit of work on all of them.
- That’s actually easier than it sounds. My preferred approach is to treat strategy- making as developing a set of answers to five critical and interlinked questions. The questions—rated logically from first to last—are:
 What are our aspirations for our organization (50,000-foot view) AND the concrete goals (5,000-foot view) against which we can measure our progress?
 What capabilities are necessary to build and maintain to win in our chosen manner? This is really a “Who” question.
 What management systems are necessary to operate to build and maintain the key capabilities? (This what may not have an immediate answer until you get through the How.)
 Where will we choose to play and not play? Where is our primary market—the USA or the World?
 How will we choose to win against the competitors? This determines our areas of responsibility and our responsibilities to the Organization.
The Key to success is to have five answers that are consistent with one another and actually reinforce one another. Each leader must agree to it, or it will fail.
Creating these Aspirations & Goals can make you an international player and guide you to know Where to Play and How to Win, based on your unique skills or proprietary product. Your competitors with global aspirations will almost certainly out-invest and outflank you; therefore, you have a short window to create your exclusive BRAND.
Winning on the basis of superior distribution is unlikely to happen if you don’t have a concrete plan to build the capabilities and a management system to maintain them.
So where do you start? Most organizations start at the top with some kind of mission/vision exercise that drives participants crazy, because it is almost impossible to create a meaningful aspiration/mission/vision in the absence of some idea of Where to Play and How to Win. Such conversations tend to go around in circles with nobody actually knowing how to agree on anything. Any mission or vision will do when you haven’t thought through the What, the Where to Play or the How to Win, the Who, and the When.
That said, if you think entirely about Where to Play and How to Win without consideration of Aspirations & Goals, you may end up with a strategy that is effective for its intended goal but isn’t something you would actually want.
What this means is that to create a strategy, you have to iterate—think a bit and brainstorm about Aspirations & Goals, then a little bit about Where to Play and How to Win, then back to Aspirations & Goals to check and modify, then down to Capabilities and Management Systems to check whether it is really doable, then back up again to modify accordingly.
While it may sound daunting, iterating like this actually makes strategy easier. It will save you from endless visioning exercises, misdirected SWOT analyses, and lots of heroic but uninformed “big thinking.” Crafting your strategy in relatively small and concrete chunks and honing the answers to the five questions through iteration will get you a better strategy, with much less pain and wasted time.
If a business venture with multiple business models and ideas clash into each other, the principals operate as individuals and not as a team. Efforts are duplicated, or they head off in different directions, or they are worthless, resulting in a “wandering generality.”
The Successful Strategy develops a Mission, then a Plan, and then the Execution steps.
We can now hone our strategy to these simple steps:
Develop the Mission Statement, the What, and the How.
Then answer the 5 questions clearly, and you have defined your execution strategy.
Now, go out and conquer the world!
–Hunter Carr, Strategist