There are probably a few things sitting on your shelf collecting dust. Maybe you have pictures of your family, a good wine, or that plant you keep forgetting to water. But in our workplaces, one unfortunate dust collector tends to be our strategic plan. If you’ve been part of strategic planning, you’ve probably experienced it as an exciting and occasionally exasperating process that takes significant collaboration and effort. So for it to just sit on a shelf, or at best occasionally referenced at a board meeting, what’s the point?
In a study conducted in 2012 by McKinsey, 74% of executives lacked confidence that their transformative strategies will succeed. That is a harrowing figure coming from those who should be the greatest champions of change. Unfortunately, this sentiment is not uncommon. We often hear leaders’ frustration with their past and current strategic plans that while it took a herculean effort and coordination amongst their team and board, in the end it felt ineffective and stagnant.
These plans get shelved for numerous reasons. In the fast-paced and uncertain world we live in, companies that have experienced decades of success can be disrupted and sunk by startup competitors with a revolutionary business model, or fail to be adaptive to shifting market demands and consumer preferences. Companies or organizations with less tenure can fail by growing too fast, too broad, or do not actually create profit. Often where most companies misstep in their strategy, it is by focusing on only one element of their strategy and ignoring all other crucial factors. We are all familiar with famous examples where seemingly strong companies stumbled due to poor strategy. Kodak was nearly synonymous with the word photography, but failed to innovate with changing trends. Blockbuster built their model around late fees resulting in backlash from their customer base, while being dismissive of their rising competitors. Half of the smartphone population used Blackberry in 2009. According to Adam Grant in his book, Think Again “by 2014, its market share had plummeted to less than one percent.” To be truly successful our strategy must take a holistic and integrated approach..
Strategy is about making choices. Specific choices to do some things and not do others. Clear and effective strategies not only create alignment among teams around a vision, but provide a roadmap to their aspired future. Proctor and Gamble’s strategy gurus propose in their book Playing to Win that, “Strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustained advantage and superior value relative to the competition.” A key word being integrated. For a strategy to be effectively executed, their champions need to deeply understand the following;
These core elements are all aspects of strategy and provide the necessary constraints needed to manifest intense focus and alignment. Equally important, is that the implementation of the strategy must feel adaptive and relevant within those constraints. When leaders fail to build strategy along with the tools to respond to external forces placed upon their business (new technology, regulations, maybe a global pandemic) we see dust beginning to collect. In times of a new opportunity or threat, having a clear strategy should be confidence building, not something cast aside for some new shiny object.
To put this in practice, we need to bring strategy alongside culture. Over emphasizing one over the other significantly diminishes our potential to execute our strategy. Culture is the collective set of values and unwritten rules that guide behaviors and norms in an organization. When companies and organizations deeply understand their culture, they can better craft a strategy that leverages their strengths and doubles down on their differentiators. By integrating culture and strategy we can set the necessary guard rails for our strategic initiatives. Organizations that are intentional about their culture and strategic focus can then be more adaptable to changes in the market, assessing new opportunities and threats through the lens of their cultural values and strategic priorities.
Taking this holistic and integrated approach to strategy allows our plans to feel more relevant and valuable. Instead of collecting dust they are the guiding force for our organizations to not only execute our vision more effectively, but to be our greatest tool in times of uncertainty or opportunity.
Randy Berridge is the Vice President of Finance and Strategy at Work Wisdom LLC. You can reach him at Randy@workwisdomllc.com.