How can you be a better strategic thinker if you don’t know where to start?
Trying to improve the strategic capabilities of an organization can be a challenge if you are not a skilled strategist. In fact, a 2010 to 2015 survey of executives, as recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, cited these significant challenges:
- Setting a clear and differentiating strategy: Listed as a problem by 50 percent of those surveyed
- Communicating the strategy and getting buy-in: 50 percent
- Allocating resources in a way that really supports the strategy: 56 percent
- Ensuring day-to-day decisions are in line with the strategy: 55 percent
- Quickly translating strategic and operational decisions into action: 53 percent
- None of the above: 7 percent
So how can leaders become more strategic? Here are five key steps to improving strategic capabilities company-wide:
1. Know your market
This means taking the time to collect facts about what is happening in the market; what your customers think, need and want; who your competitors are and how they are perceived by customers; and what trends are changing the shape of your transactions, including technology. Every business has to be successful within the confines of the market. You can’t change the market, but you can choose where to play. Be sure it is an educated decision, based on market insight and not assumptions or historical practices.
The market is changing rapidly, and leaders with their fingers on the pulse will be better able to strategically adapt.
No business has unlimited resources, so it is important to be sure that your business has a clear focus. Answer the question, “What does your company look like in five years?” Be as specific as possible because it is this “story” that will generate the clarity and inspiration needed to engage the workforce to achieve that outcome.
A great example of specificity is JFK’s moonshot proclamation: “By the end of the decade, we will put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.”
Don’t say your strategy is a revenue goal or an improvement in an operational capability. You must be specific in order to enable the organization to align behind it. A company can achieve much more much faster with a narrower focus than a broad positioning that is less clear. Once set, stay the course.
3. Engage others through clarity
Before employees can participate and support the strategy, they must know what is expected of them. The strategy must be translated to actions.
Start with defining initiatives necessary to get the company to the future state, prioritize them, then break them down into operational steps. It is those operational steps that provide the clarity for employees on how they support strategy. By documenting activities, timelines and setting measures, the strategic initiatives become integrated with the operational activities of the company. That is when they get done!
4. Resource alignment
Strategic initiatives won’t be implemented without aligning the resources with the priorities. If your strategy calls for working in different ways or doing new things, you must spend your resources accordingly. Inadequate resource allocation is the No. 1 derailment of strategy. Resource realignment is a continuous process.
Good communication is the secret sauce. It can solve many problems. Communication needs to be consistent, regular and two-way. Good communication fosters understanding, commitment and alignment. It is when each functional area works together to operate as one entity that strategic results are accelerated.
The strategic actions above are not a one-time event. Everything will not gel in a one-day off-site meeting. Strategic leadership is an approach to day-to-day business. As the leader of the organization, the more you encourage outside-in, fact-based decision-making, define the business future and stay the course, break strategy into action steps, align resources with priorities and communicate like a broken record, the more strategic the company becomes and the more accelerated its implementation and results!