Strategy. What is it good for?

Organisations of all sizes spend time planning their strategies. But - in a world that is changing so quickly - how effective are these strategies? Does the time spent really yield results? Being a strategist, I would say it does! And here are seven steps to make sure that your strategic planning is as useful as possible.

1. Context is important

The first stage to any effective strategic thinking is to know as much as you can about the operating environment, and any potential changes. Exploring the context will help you find opportunities and identify risks and challenges that might be on the horizon. Be broad in your thinking, and be open to good ideas from all sectors, as they might be transferable to yours. Taking time to understand this context will put your strategy on a stronger footing.

2. Focus on your core purpose

Of course, thinking broadly about potential opportunities can lead you down the wrong path, so make sure you keep a clear focus on what your organisation is there for. Your purpose should inform everything you do - from the decisions you make to the processes you use. If your purpose isn't clear, take this time to define it. This earlier post might help.

3. Be ambitious - but not too ambitious

Your strategy should set out what you want to do over the next 1, 3 or 5 years, so it needs to be achievable. This doesn't mean it should just be 'business as normal'. Strategy should be transformational. But it shouldn't be so ambitious that you're never going to accomplish. In other words, strategy shouldn't be a stick to beat yourself with, it should encourage you to push your organisation that bit further.

4. Know your starting point

To know where to pitch your ambition, you need to have a clear idea of where your business is, and an understanding of what needs to change. Take the time to evaluate current performance, gathering the evidence you need to make informed decisions. This might be web statistics, customer feedback, staff opinion, sales figures - or any other relevant source of information. Think about what the data is telling you, and use your strategy to identify improvements.

5. Talk to people - and then talk some more!

Effective strategies can't be developed - or implemented - by one person, so make sure you talk to your staff, customers, members, directors, advisors, shareholders and other stakeholders to understand the changes they'd like to see. If you're relying on particular people, or groups of people, to make the strategy work, then make sure you spend time listening to their ideas, and taking account of their feedback. Strategies can look wonderful on paper, but fail because the time wasn't taken to make sure people agreed with the priorities.

6. Make it mean something

Strategies can be full of marvellous words, but this can mask their meaning. Avoid business jargon at all costs so that anyone reading it can understand what you are trying to achieve. And make it meaningful and specific to your organisation. Too often, strategies can be applied to any number of similar organisations. Need help getting your message across? Read these posts on communication.

7. Revisit your plans

Many organisations develop a strategy for three or five years and then just check on progress. They don't stop to revisit whether the plans that were made at the start of the strategy are still relevant. Your strategy hasn't failed if you have to reset targets a year or two in, or alter a priority because of changes in your operating environment. It's much better to review your strategy on a regular basis to make sure it is still the right one for your organisation. So build in six monthly and annual checks, and adapt as required.

It's true that there's no recipe for effective strategy, and it's difficult to make plans when so much is changing. But these steps will help you make sure that you've done what you can to put your strategy on a firm footing. If you need help with your strategic thinking, then please do get in touch. We'd be delighted to help.

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