I love strategy. Looking at what's happening, thinking about what might happen, and then coming up with ways to make the most of an opportunity really makes me tick. I've spent lots of time working out how to gather all the information you need to inform your thinking, prioritise what you do, and evaluate your success, and I've been really happy with outcomes. But what I haven't done is spent much time revisiting that approach, and asking myself the hard questions that I encourage my clients to ask. So the time has come to revisit my approach, take a closer look, and make sure I'm not missing any tricks. Here goes...
Step by step guide
Over the years, I've developed a step-by-step approach to strategy development that breaks the process down into manageable chunks:
Understanding: Taking stock of your current position and performance.
Analysis: Putting that performance into the broader operating context.
Engagement: Gathering perspectives from a wide range of people.
Prioritisation: Identifying what you'll do as a result of your information gathering - and what you won't do, what you'll stop doing, or what you'll do differently.
Implementation: Capturing the actions you'll take to make the strategy work and when you'll do them.
Evaluation: Knowing what success will look like.
I've worked with different clients developing strategies using this approach, and I've written about how to put the steps into practice. But is it enough? Given the upheaval we've all faced over the past few years, is this approach still valid? Or do we need to 'do strategy' completely differently?
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So, does it still work?
It's hard to reflect objectively and dispassionately about something you've put so much time into, but reflect I must. And, being brutally honest with myself, I'd say that the approach does need some tweaking for 2023. It needs to:
Be shorter-term: While I love the long-term focus, times have changed. And with that comes a need for plans that deal with the short-term, as well as the longer-term horizon. For me, this means that strategic planning needs to be shaped by the overall purpose of the organisation, have outcomes in mind for the three-year horizon, and be delivered through annual or even biannual plans, with progress reviewed on a quarterly or monthly basis.
Embrace experimentation: With increased uncertainty, strategy needs to be more open to testing different scenarios and experimenting with different options to see what will be most effective. This also means that more things will need to be allowed to fail. Acceptance of failure as a key part of the learning process needs to be built into budget setting and time management, as well as the culture of each organisation.
Build on continuous improvement: The ethos of continuous improvement sits at the heart of my work, but I don't think my strategy process takes this into account enough. Strategy means change, and change can be difficult. So creating an environment that is built on a mindset of continuous improvement - where there isn't a perfect process or system - should be a core part of the strategy.
Be more reflective: Finally, strategy in 2023 will only work if organisations make regular time to learn lessons from the experimental approaches, reflect on those lessons, and then use that reflection to make changes as they review their plans. We've seen how quickly people can adapt to different situations - like home-based working - when external pressures force them to do so. Strategy needs to harness and celebrate that ability to adapt.
I'll be spending the next while revisiting my guide to strategy to make sure these reflections are included, so watch this space for an updated version. And if you have any reflections on your strategy process, or need help with your strategy procee, I'd love to hear from you. Get in touch on email@example.com.