Over the past few weeks, during the 3rd wave, I reached out and spoke to 10 CEO/Presidents about ‘strategy’. The participant’s organizations varied in size from multinationals to regional companies and included both family-owned enterprises and publicly traded ones.
Now, I realize 10 does not constitute a statistically significant sample but I did ask the same 6 questions (points for consistency?) and delightedly, I received 10 different answers to each. None of them were wrong, of course, as there is no wrong answer to the question, “What is a strategy to you?” What this exercise did underscores is the innumerable approaches to defining and building strategy, which are rarely easy to do and the real work begins after the strategy is set. I touch on some highlights below:
The most memorable answer to the question, “What is strategy to you?” was:
“It’s the plan, that provides the direction, that avoids the ditch, but doesn’t move us too fast because we may run out of supply and not too slow because we may have too much left when we arrive, which happens, ideally, when the plan works, before anybody else is there”.
When asked to rate, on a scale of 1-5 how important strategy has been to the success of their respective firms. The majority rated it 3 – right down the middle.
When probed for reasons why the rating was not higher the two reasons rising above the rest were:
“We changed course and never looked at it again” and “poor employee engagement”.
Before you view the answers below, consider how you would answer the question, “When you think of strategy what are the first 3 words that come to mind?” ….. Now, how do your answers relate to the most memorable:
“Painful, expensive and usually wrong” and “North-star, secret-power, and purpose”
All fun aside there was consensus around the power of a well-defined and well-embedded strategy and each leader had unique stories of strategic planning successes and failures (stories for another day). Not surprisingly, after accounting for differences among companies i.e., strategic needs of multi-nationals vs. regional players, etc., consistent themes did emerge.
The importance of a clearly defined vision or corporate goal,
“Strategy always starts with the end in mind” and “The first step in our planning process is reemphasizing our goals.”
The necessity of having the whole company aligned with the strategy (at least able to articulate their role in it),
“It’s a waste of time if the whole company doesn’t know the important role they play in the strategy” and “We really began to get it when each agenda item was attached to a strategic pillar or tactic”.
The unequivocal importance of regularly reviewing the strategy and measure, measure, measure the success of the tactics and actions that support and drive the plan.
“You can’t just set and forget; we review aspects monthly and quarterly and retreat yearly” and “the best decisions come when we first review why we exist.”
The undeniable influence that culture has on the success or failure of the strategy.
“I’ve tried to push strategy against culture, and it’s not been pretty” and “Strategy can influence culture but there must be buy-in, and it takes time, consistency, and focus”. The ubiquitous comment, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” also came up.
Thanks to the 10 very successful leaders for sharing your time, your stories, and the laughter!
Why we do it: Here at Ignite Management, we believe that if every team is a little better, a little more engaged, a little more purpose-driven then everybody is better off suppliers, employees, customers, stakeholders, and our communities.
How we do it: By listening intently, asking tough questions (of everybody), and assisting the collective wisdom in the organization to work as one team and build, execute and own their plan.
What we do: We call it strategic planning, team engagement, and leadership development because those are the measurable outcomes but why we do it is the most important.
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Author: Dan O’Day