Strategies are the new black.  Plans are so yesterday.  Every planner is now a strategist.  It’s now more popular than ever before to want a strategy.  It’s rare to come out of a meeting and not have had someone raise the idea of a new strategy for something.  It does make you sound knowledgeable when you suggest we need a new strategy, I must admit.  But most of the times these strategies are just plans, or tactics.

So, what is a strategy?

Oxford Dictionary defines it as being:

“A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.”

So, a strategy is a plan, except that its focus is more long term, or at higher level.  It’s important to keep this in mind as we go through the 9 steps I’ve put together.

My last subject for my MBA was Strategy and Business Policy.  It was great, but I couldn’t find anywhere with concise information on how to actually develop a good strategy.  Luckily, I’ve had a fair bit of experience with strategy development, so I’ve combined what I learned through the MBA course with my own experiences to come up with my ‘9-step approach to developing effective strategy’.  This approach will apply for any strategy, whether it’s a workforce sustainability strategy, health and safety strategy, risk strategy, business strategy or an IT strategy.  The steps and principles will be the same.

Here it is…

My 9-step process to effective strategy:

Step 1.  Gather the right people

These first couple of steps are the ones that people often overlook yet they are so important.  You need to get the right people around you to go through the strategy development process.  As Good to Great author, Jim Collins says, “First who, then what”.   The right people will help you work out where to go and how to get there.

Executive involvement is critical, as strategy belongs on the executive table.  That’s their domain.  Remember ‘long-term or overall aim’?  Others might include key senior operations staff and support service personnel like HR, finance, IT and marketing etc.

Step 2.  Analyse the current situation

Before we can think about where we are going, we need to know where we are now.    Where you are now will heavily effect where you can go in the future and what it will take to get there.  This involves doing a thorough analysis of the external environment, the industry and any competitors, and also an analysis of the internal organisation.  A SWOT analysis is a great tool for this.

Step 3.  Create your vision statement

We now cast our gaze long in to the future.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech still sends shivers down my spine.   He made it very clear what his vision was and articulated it so well.  Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to fulfil that vision.  From a strategy point of view, we can see how important it is to have a long-term vision of where we are going.  If you’re a Simon Sinek fan like me, this is your ‘why’.  Always start with why.   Also check out my previous article on the power of why.

Step 4.  Create your mission statement

Now that we can see long in to the future, all of our decisions hereafter will be made with this vision in mind.  This way we will always be progressing towards our vision.

At the very highest level, we need to set our mission.  This starts to formulate our ‘what’.  What are the key things we will do achieve our vision?  These will become your mission.

Step 5.  Identify strategic objectives

An objective is really just a goal.  A strategic objective is a very high-level or longer-term goal that is required to achieve our vision.  You can probably identify a few themes in your mission statement that you could turn in to strategic objectives.  Don’t forget to make them SMART!

Step 6.  Identify goals

Your strategic objectives will probably be made up of some lower level goals.  Probably more operational in nature than strategic.

You’ll need to achieve these lower level goals to achieve the strategic objectives.  They will be shorter term.  They may even be very short term, as I will explain a bit later  in the article when I discuss an agile approach to strategy development and implementation.

Step 7.  Develop an action plan

Now we start to get in to the weeds.  How will we achieve the goals to achieve the strategic objectives to fulfil our mission and bring our vision to reality?  Actions.

Each action needs to be clearly aligned with the goal and objective.  It must explain what is to be done, by who, with what resources, and by when.  It’s also very good practice to determine when actions will start so you can more clearly see if things are on track or not.

Step 8.   Implement the action plan

This is where the rubber hits the road.  Sleeves are rolled up and we follow our action plan and get it done.  We are on our way to achieving our vision.  Progress!

Step 9.   Monitor, measure and report on performance

Good governance and reporting are essential.  Nothing ever goes truly to plan, so monitor and measure closely.  Keep your executive team involved by providing regular, accurate reports of how the plan is progressing.  Don’t assume they know what’s going on.  Executives are incredibly busy.  You need to put the information before them in a clear and concise way and be clear on what it is you want from them.  Always make recommendations to the executive team.  If you don’t want anything from them, then why are you reporting it at all?  We might want them to help remove barriers, or reward and recognise success.  It’s amazing how powerful a bit of recognition from the executive team can be in motivating people.  You may want to consider using a scorecard to monitor and report on progress.

An Agile approach to strategy development and implementation

‘Agile’ is a contemporary term that we usually see applied to IT projects, but Agile thinking can also be an incredibly useful approach to developing effective strategy.

From Harvard Business Review, Make Your Strategy Agile”:

“As strategy is becoming more fluid — more like software that needs constant upgrading — two alternative concepts are emerging: vision and improvisation.

Vision incorporates the long-term, if not permanent, purpose and principles of an organization, which serve as the north star for all its actions.

Improvisation suggests a fundamental openness and flexibility at the tactical level — the willingness to explore, experiment, and iterate.

When you incorporate both into strategy creation, it becomes a transformative event rather than a long-winded process; it’s a thick experience rather than a thorough exercise.”

With an agile approach, the 9 steps remain, however the goals (step 6) and actions (step 7) will be much more short-term focussed and highly prioritised.

It involves determining the highest priority things needed to be done to achieve a strategic objective, coming up with a plan to achieve them, then assigning a strike team to complete the actions in a very short time period.  Once the actions are complete, everyone regroups, defines the next set of goals and actions, and repeat.  It’s often referred to as sprints and scrums where the project team comes together as a scrum, plans the next stage, then sprints to complete it, coming back to the scrum to do it all again.

This way all efforts are placed on achieving the highest priority goals first, and quickly.  We don’t move on to the next goal until the previous one is complete, or there is nothing more that can be done because of lag time, etc.  In these cases, the teams move on to the next priorities, but when the higher priority goal comes back online (like when an outsourced piece is delivered), everyone returns to the higher priority goal and completes it.  With this method, we are always working on the 20% of things that get us 80% of the results.  If we miss anything at the end of the plan, it will be the lower priority things only.

Conclusion

Strategy is critical if you want to make meaningful progress.  Whether you follow a more traditional liner or cascading approach or the more contemporary agile approach, by following my 9-step process you will definitely increase you chances of achieving your vision.

Please comment with your thoughts and experiences.  I’d love to hear whether you think I’ve missed something, or if you’ve tried it out and found success.

I’d love it if you could please share this article so that others can benefit.  Knowledge is a dish best shared.