The interest generated by my last blog ‘A Complex World’ highlighted to me that there are many organisations wrestling with making and then managing a strategy. And yes, making strategy is really hard – it takes time (dedicated time – not just the odd hour here and there, or a eureka moment from the Chief Exec), intellect and more often than not an outsider to come into the organisation and test assumptions and assertions to avoid the inevitable group think. I was fortunate to spend a full academic year at the Royal College of Defence Studies immersed in learning to understand and develop strategy at the very strategic levels of government; regionally and globally. It was a superb year and a rare privilege to work with over a hundred immensely talented strategic leaders from across the globe. And it certainly helped me when I went into my next few jobs.
Subsequently, as Chief Operating Officer of a very large organisation, we had to review our 5-year strategy in light of some major re-organisation. I was charged with leading the strategic review. The very talented senior leadership team (SLT) and I took in total 2-3 days to work out where we thought the organisation should go. In fact, it took us a whole morning just to work out our Unique Selling Point (USP) and long-term vision; and put that into a sentence. And we understood perfectly the context in which we were working in and the organisation that we were leading. But those 2 days (broken by a few weeks to allow us to consider the first half of our work) were key in allowing us then to work up the strategy into something the whole organisation could understand (they need to be bought into it) but crucially, how we as a Senior Leadership Team were going to lead it through our Board
over the next few years.
Key to our success – and it is a great strategy – was our collective approach and unity of purpose supported by a Chief Exec who knew and trusted his SLT. After that it was good strategic leadership – ie each of us owning and delivering part of the plan, getting out and about and communicating that strategy to our people. Everyone in the organisation knew where we were going on that strategic journey – the vision or end, how we were going to do it - the way – and what we needed in terms of resources to achieve it – the means. And this took time – time away from the e-mails and meetings to ensure the whole organisation was singularly focussed on that journey and all their collective efforts were towards that vision (ie if it does not add to the journey you should not be doing it).
While I will consider my approach to strategic leadership in another blog, for those wrestling with starting to think about making or re-writing a strategy, let me offer you the first few questions that you should really be thinking about:
Who are we, what are we doing and what is our USP?
What are we good at?
What are we not so good at? Do we wish to improve?
What are our core values?
What are our aims – Board’s aims/shareholders aims?
What is the context – UK, regionally or globally that we are operating in?
What should we be doing, what could we be doing, what should we not be doing?
Who are our current competitors?
Who could be our competitors?
While the questions above may seem easy, once you sit down with your team and try to tease these out (and the list is way longer) you will find it will take time and intellect, and a fair few heated debates. Only once you have agreed on the above and worked out your desired end state and vision are you ready to test your assertions and ambitions to enable you to work out how the journey is undertaken to get you there.
Making strategy, I would argue is not easy if you approach it properly – look at the world today and the complexity of the problems out there – but giving you and your SLT the time to think in this world of fast e-mails and demanding timelines (are they really contributing to the vision?) will make the whole journey thereafter organised and more manageable; and most importantly more resilient to any strategic shocks which emerge.