Whilst having a clear strategy is important for any organisation, the actual word ‘strategy’ is one of the most misused words in the modern language. Lately you need a ‘strategy’ to interview a prospective employee, a ‘strategy’ for making a journey and even a ‘strategy’ for going shopping….
A strategy needs to be formulated and is the outcome at the end of a number of inputs and outputs. Unfortunately, a consequence of the overuse of the word ‘strategy’ blurs the meaning of other terms, such as:-
However, these expressions are important to your organisation – and a key element of your leadership development – so we are providing you with a user-friendly way of creating a strategy for your unique Performance Landscape; together with easy to use resources to help you on this journey.
Even how to formulate a strategy is not such an easy question to answer, as there are numerous theorists with differing views. The following is a practical way of formulating a strategy, which I have developed over a number of years, I am not arrogant enough to consider it any more valid than any other; it just works for me and has helped many of our clients.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to start at the beginning and follow a map? Well, the exciting challenge is that you’re drawing the map for your organisation – and you and your staff will be able to determine whether you are leading them along the correct route by whether they follow. Leadership without followership is a form of communication…. if you find you’re on your own there’s a meaningful message there!
A strategy doesn’t just happen. It is created through a process of dreams, thoughts, analysis and planning – not necessarily performed in a linear fashion. The organisations that will continue and succeed are those whose leaders embrace the value – and excitement – of looking to their future journey; starting with their strategic vision.
Strategic Vision is, for me, the start of formulating your strategy – and can determine the destiny of your organisation. However, rather than daunting, it should be fun for leaders to create, as it is one of your rare opportunities to think about where you want your organisation to be in the next two or three years. I believe, with the ever increasing pace of change and global instability, a five year vision is no longer a reality. It is alright for this to be a big, audacious picture – and I encourage my clients to start with exactly that; a picture!
The next steps are to go on a journey to test your vision; to think about and analyse it, with the realisation that your desired destination – and your vision – may change. Imagine a herd of elephants heading off to a dry water-hole, just because it’s a place they’d like to be; albeit that it will be the death of them – literally!
And, yes, we have worked with clients with that immovable vision That’s why a key part of creating your vision is the need for strategic thinking.
Strategic Thinking is imagining, considering and understanding possible future operating environments for your organisation. It is gaining and utilising knowledge to expand your thinking about potential future options, whilst also thinking about where you are now. I am always surprised at the number of clients who do not know where they are beginning their journey from; which I will return to in ‘strategic analysis’.
A significant part of strategic thinking is systems thinking; where leaders consider and learn about the larger systems they are a part of. This moves their focus from looking internally to building a larger vision. Systems thinking looks at the landscape of the external environment. It helps to think about aligning internal capacity with collaborations and alliances, in an ever changing external environment, to ensure viability of your organisation into the future.
Whilst no-one knows what the future holds, you can understand a lot about what will influence the future. Without strategic thinking a reactive, firefighting mentality can exist, due to blockages such as, ‘it’s just imagination and may not be possible’, ‘we’re too busy to do that’ or ‘we need to focus on relevant facts and data’.
Unfortunately, performance data focuses on the here-and-now – or even the past – on what has happened, how we responded to what did happen and how we will react to it. This is how the zebra behaves…. like many organisations.
The giraffe looks at what is starting to happen and, based on their strategic analysis, starts thinking of the cause of what is happening and their options to influence their own long-term future. The outcome of strategic thinking and strategic analysis is that you integrate the future into the decisions you make today.
Strategic Analysis of both the internal and external environments allows you to rationalise your strategic vision with reality. However, it is timely to point out that it may not be advisable to ‘over-rationalise’ to the point where you justify the status-quo. Remember that, although your vision may not be possible now, that’s not a reason to extinguish your idea – there would never be invention without making the impossible possible.
There are a number of strategic analysis tools that allow you to look at your current position and others that help to expand your thought process, considering the future; a few of which are outlined below:-
A really good way of looking at your current position, that can also be fun to complete, is the Cultural Web. This looks at the current paradigm of your organisation, based on the stories that others tell about your organisation; what rituals and routines you have; what your organisational structure is; who holds power; what symbols there are and what control systems you have. All put together, you can identify your current culture.
Once completed, looking at the current culture, go through the exercise of completing it as how you would like your culture to be. Examine the differences between what is and what you would like it to be and then think about how to change it.
Another commonly used tool is a SWOT analysis; a two by two matrix allowing you to outline the internal Strengths and Weaknesses of your organisation and consider the external Opportunities and Threats. Although this is often expressed as an analysis tool looking to the future, from my experience this limits the strategic thinking to the ‘here and now’ strengths and weaknesses of your organisation.
Some of you may also have heard of a PEST analysis, which looks at the Political, Economical, Social and Technological issues that are likely to affect your organisation in the future. Over the years Environmental and Legal issues have been added; increasing the model to PESTEL.
To assist you, a model that I developed in 2000, combining the traditional PESTEL and SWOT model is outlined below. I reversed the thinking of the ‘SWOT’ to ‘TOWS’ as organisations tend to look at their current strengths first – rather than what strengths they may need to develop to negate future threats and seize opportunities. I also changed the ‘PESTEL’ model to ‘PESTOWL’ to incorporate both organisational and world environments; which are both important for this millennium.
Once you’ve completed your analysis it’s worth revisiting your initial vision, to see if it has changed. Once you’ve confirmed or amended you vision the next step is to produce a Vision Statement. This delivers a map for the organisation to pursue, defines the direction it is headed and engages the staff with a sense of purposeful action. It creates organisational purpose and identity; answering the question of what your business will look like in a determined period. It will be explicit about the market position it wants to occupy, the business activities to be pursued, the customer focus it will have and the capabilities it plans to develop.
Once this vision statement can be expressed then it is time to produce a Strategic Plan of how you are going to achieve everything in your vision statement. This is where some strategies fail, as they are full of ‘what we are going to do’ without identifying ‘how we are going to do it’.
Strategic Planning is essential in providing clarity to the organisation of how each employee’s role supports the vision. Often a strategic plan is a stuffy, numbers-filled document that presents a lot of history, some initiatives, aims and objectives, a lengthy description of the competition and a budget. Most of these documents are so long, detailed and boring they really only have one main use – as a doorstop – because no-one reads them. That is not to say that this detail isn’t necessary; it’s just that a much more organic document should direct the reader to the detail they need. Strategic plans are a living document, subject to change, as the world is an ever changing place and your organisation has an ever changing performance landscape.
All of the above is delivered through Strategic Leadership.
Strategic Leadership refers to a manager’s ability to express a strategic vision for their organisation and allow others to understand and acquire that vision. It is the potential to influence organisational members to embrace and engage in organisational change. Strategic leaders work in a complex environment, confronting difficult issues that influence and are influenced by internal and external factors.
The main objective of strategic leadership is to create a forward thinking, high performing organisation and to develop an environment in which employees understand the organisation’s needs in context of their own role. Strategic leaders encourage the employees in an organisation to follow their own ideas and they recognise and reward creativity and initiative.
Functional strategic leadership is about innovation, perception, and planning to assist your staff and your organisation to realise their potential.
Written by Alan Wingrove.
Alan is a Business and Leadership Coach, who has significant experience in assisting organisations with their strategy and senior leadership development