While we see some excellent strategies we see too many that have little impact on decision making. The most unhelpful are wish lists or simply summarise the organisation’s existing activities and include little content that will enable or guide operational decisions, activities or priorities or enable evaluation of effectiveness or progress.
When it is well done, strategic thinking is enormously powerful. It pulls everyone together around a shared understanding of the organisation’s fundamental purpose and its direction of travel. It enables leaders at all levels to determine priorities, make choices and allocate resources. It provides a basis for understanding new challenges and changes in the environment.
The time spent on developing strategy is sometimes seen as an unaffordable luxury. What is often missed is the vastly greater amount of time saved subsequently in day-to-day decision making, where the absence of good strategy can mean that each significant decision or choice requires lengthy and too often inconclusive debate.
So what makes good strategy?
- The right process
- Shared clarity about organisational purpose
- A well-informed understanding of the challenges ahead
- A clear strategic focus, that is, a description of a limited number of priority outcomes for next period of time, expressed in a way that will enable evaluation and ideally measurement of progress and success
- A high-level framework of operational tasks that are essential to achieving the objectives.
Here is our guide to ensuring that your strategy has real traction and drives organisation outcomes:
The process must:
- Identify key players
- Who must have genuine ownership
- Who must feel they have been meaningfully involved
- Ensure key stakeholders play a meaningful part
- Identify when to involve each stakeholder group
- Pinpoint when difficult issues will be addressed and choices made.
- Clarity of purpose
Statements of purpose / vision and mission:
- Should always be revisited
- May need to be rearticulated in language that is meaningful to current stakeholders
- Should establish a clear shared understanding of WHAT difference in the world the organisation exists to bring about, for WHOM and by doing WHAT.
- Situation analysis
Successful strategy depends on establishing a common understanding of the challenges ahead. It requires:
- Examination of the environment now and over the next period of time in order to identify key challenges
- In times of uncertainty such as the present, using scenario thinking and ‘what if’ questions to explore new opportunities and potential threats can be invaluable
- SWOT analysis to be undertaken on the basis of an understanding of the future external environment
- Analysis & synthesis of the findings of these exercises to identify the strategic challenges the organisation faces.
- Setting direction and establishing the basis for evaluating success
This is the key step, where the real value is added. It is the point where tough issues are faced and debated, choices made and strategic priorities established. It should:
- Be based on the situation analysis
- Either identify priority outcomes, expressed as a very limited number of ‘SMART’ objectives
- Or identify priority areas where progress must be achieved and targets against which to evaluate progress
- Set clear timeframes for their achievement.
- Operational framework
This final step should identify the key tasks to be undertaken to deliver the objectives and, at the highest level, how they should be carried out. This
- Is the crucial link between strategy and operational planning
- Identifies the critical activities that need to be undertaken and completed for the strategy to be successful.