A great captain once said, “the best strategies are ones that leadership can communicate in a single picture”. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Yet, in the past few years of dealing with corporate strategy development, I’ve been seeing the exact opposite. More often than not, companies trot out multiple binders of documents advertised as corporate strategy that are, in reality, a compilation of endless tactical, operational and organizationally biased business documents.
It’s even more curious that they paid someone to do it on purpose. When I read these tomes, my impression is that the authors didn’t separate what was strategically relevant from what was operationally responsive, or tactically decisive. This lack of separation creates the greatest challenge for providing coherency and clarity in communicating those strategies.
I don’t mean to over-simplify strategy, but regardless of the complex adaptive challenges your business faces, the rapidity of change in your business environment, or the depth and breadth of your business activities, the need for coherent and cogent strategy does not change. Most importantly, your success in implementing your strategy is wholly dependent upon leadership’s ability to communicate it. In short, stick to what is strategically relevant.
Items of tactical or operational importance will wax and wane through the execution of your strategy. Business plans will change every year – conversely, your strategy should have legs and if strategy is truly an “art”, perhaps your strategy development should culminate in a little artwork.
A picture is worth a thousand words (or six binders from a consultancy firm) so start crafting your strategy from a graphical perspective. You can create the accompanying text and annexes later. If the picture resonates with you, it will resonate with your company and your clients. The litmus test is whether that picture meets the requirements of being comprehensive, integrated, adaptive, and networked.
The expression of your strategic art can take many forms. However, as a minimum it should contain the following prioritized items:
- A clear and concise expression of the CEO’s Vision and desired End State.
- Your opposing factors with emphasis on the Opposing Centre of Gravity (the single strategic factor or challenge you must overcome, above all other factors, in order to achieve your end state).
- Your friendly factors with emphasis on your Friendly Centre of Gravity (the single strategic factor or existing capability you must protect or develop, above all other factors, in order to achieve your end state).
- A clear and concise Mission Statement that speaks to your CEO’s Vision / End State and the Centres of Gravity.
- The internal and external lines of operations with emphasis on the main effort.
- The key decisive points that are strategically relevant to achieving the end state.
- The dependency relationship and critical pathways between the decisive points.
- Branch plans to deal with expected obstacles or opportunities that could accelerate success, and sequels to ensure continued success on the end state.
As an example, here’s a sample of a strategy graphic that addresses each of those points:
Although this was a rather simplistic and expository example, the principles are applicable to any strategically minded business activity. For a more detailed discussion on the subject, I invite you to download our Boardroom Metrics White Paper, The “Art” of Strategy which deals with the subject far more comprehensively than can be accomplished in blog form.
Strategy is a leadership tool for integrating and aligning decision support that is strategically relevant. The key word here is ‘leadership’, and while there are many different aspects to formulating and executing a coherent strategy; leadership is Number 1…. and everything else is Number 2. If your strategy cannot be effectively communicated by leadership and/or visualized by the audience, you can measure its endurance with an egg timer.
As final food for thought, I will pose the following question: What do the following strategic historical examples have in common?
- Eisenhower’s strategy for the invasion of Normandy;
- MacArthur’s strategy for the Inchon landing;
- Marshall’s plan for the reconstruction of post war Europe;
- Schwarzkopf’s strategy for recapturing Kuwait;
- Stitzer’s strategy for Cadbury’s $4B acquisition of Adams; and
- Jobs’ strategy for Apple’s rejuvenation.
Answer: They were all highly successful, integrated, adaptive, comprehensive, and networked strategies that senior leadership was able to communicate with a simple drawing on a single piece on paper.
I welcome your questions and comments below.