There are plenty of self-help tools around to help us prioritise our tasks better, but this doesn't help when it comes to making strategic decisions. So what do you do when ranking, or deciding what to dump, delegate, defer or do just doesn't cut the mustard? Read on, that's what! This latest post in our series shares some tips about how to prioritise for your strategy.
A good place to start on our exploration of strategic prioritisation is to look at what decision making for strategy really is. Michael Porter puts what he calls "strategic trade offs" at the heart of the strategy development process. Why? Because - if you have limited resources, which nearly everyone does - doing more of one thing necessarily means doing less of something else. Being strategic about these trade offs puts you in the driving seat. Porter uses Ikea, the furniture store, as an example. When they decided on their business strategy, Ikea kept their vision in mind: to offer good design and function at a low price. This helped them to prioritise what to focus on. While traditional furniture stores managed complex supply chains, Ikea kept design in-house. They offered limited sales help, instead deciding to provide customers with information in other ways. And they kept their furniture modular, with few options for customisation. All these strategic decisions meant they kept their focus on design and function and were able to keep prices low. What's most important is that they didn't set out to meet all the needs of all the customers, all the time.
Strategic prioritisation isn't easy. In fact, most of our clients find this stage extremely difficult. Strategic decisions are long term in nature and are likely to have a far-reaching impact on the whole organisation. So they're not something that should be rushed into. When clients are finding it tough, we suggest they think about five questions to help their consideration:
What has your early research showed you? The evaluation of your operating context will provide you with a basis for your decision making. Take time to really think about what the analysis says about your organisation and your sector.
What might you be able to start doing? There might be changes in the external landscape that point towards products, processes or systems that you should start. An obvious recent example would be the focus on the gender pay gap. Committing to closing this gap might lead to other decisions.
What can you stop doing? This is the most difficult question for people to answer. Go back to your evidence base. Set out some parameters to determine what's most valuable to your organisation and test the success of your activities against those parameters. Remember, value isn't only defined as financial.
What do you want to achieve in the next five years? While your strategy should be looking ahead to changes in the next 10 or 20 years, it's helpful to keep half an eye on the near future.
What is your organisational purpose? We've put this last to make it the final test for your decisions, but consideration of how your strategy will deliver your purpose should be at the forefront of your mind at each stage of the strategic process.
Working through these questions with your senior team should provide you with a set of decisions. But the process doesn't end there. We suggest three further activities before you finalise your priorities:
1. Test your decisions
To get real engagement with your strategy from the people within your organisation, you need to talk to them about it. We'll be saying more about this in our post on stakeholder engagement but, for now, remember that if you want a strategy that's successful – and doesn't just sit on the shelf gathering dust – then you need to give your staff and other stakeholders the opportunity to have their say.
2. Take time to consider the feedback
Collecting opinions is just the first step. To make your consultation meaningful, you have to build time into your decision making process to really consider the feedback. This means going back to the all comments you've received and talking about them in detail with your senior team. There'll be some comments that will mean you adapt some of your earlier thinking, and they'll be some comments that don't get included. The important thing is to respond openly to all the feedback, highlighting what you've included and why. And it's even better if you can share why ideas haven't been included. People might not agree, but they'll appreciate the transparency.
3. Be bold – but not gung-ho
As with all decisions, they'll be a point in the process where you'll just have to be bold and prioritise. Put a realistic time limit on the amount of time you'll spend considering the feedback and set a deadline for when you'll make the decisions. The easiest thing is to delay. But not defining strategic priorities means you'll have no real strategy at all. So be prepared to take the plunge.
Reaching this stage in the process means your strategy development is nearly there. You've made decisions based on evidence collected from your initial research, and you've started to share those with your stakeholders. Next up, we look at communicating and implementing your strategy – two different activities but ones that are most successful when considered as a pair. If you need to revisit the landscape mapping, click here.
As an associate model, Lucidity Solutions Ltd and The Partnership Lab combine skills to create a service that supports all elements of strategy development and implementation, from understanding the operating context to working with stakeholders to implement your vision. Get in touch to find out more.