What Is Your Strategy? Six Principles for Creating a Winning Strategy
Our vision answers: Where are we going? And our strategy answers: How do we get there?
Can you concisely define these for your organization?
Vision, then strategy. Both talked about all the time. Both missed or ignored most of the time. Today, I will help us make the distinction between the two, and share six principles to help us create a winning strategy to take us there.
Vision and Strategy
One of my closest friends and my business coach, Michelle Beames, often asks me, “What is your strategic road map?” Usually I don’t want to hear it. In fact, it has become a joke when I ask her anything now; I know her response will be, “Is this part of your strategic road map?” But that’s what good leaders determine. Before they get busy, and before they get their people busy, they answer two fundamental questions. Where are we going? (Vision) And, how do we get there? (Strategy)
Leaders dream. They form visions in their minds. But many times we don’t stop to create an intelligent roadmap to actually get us there. Let’s say your vision is that you’d like your family to visit all the presidential libraries within the next ten years. Or you want your kids to attend an Ivy League school. Or you want your organization to have twenty more locations in the next ten years. Okay. What’s the path to get you there?
Let’s make another distinction before we move forward as well. Many times we confuse a tactic with a strategy. Tactics are the next steps. A strategy on the other hand, is an over arching plan that takes into account all the elements required, and all the dimensions that must be considered, to achieve the vision. Here is what Sun Tzu, Chinese military general, strategist, tactician, and philosopher says:
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu
Six Principles for Creating a Winning Strategy
- Without a clear vision, an effective strategy is not possible. As I mentioned above, how can we create a strategy to get there, when there is not clearly defined? It’s not possible. Before you settle on the strategy, be disciplined with your team to first determine the vision. It is so easy to get busy with present battles and forget to define our ultimate destination. What is the prize we are aiming for? We must give a definitive answer to: Where are we going?
- Without a strategy, we will become defeated. You may have heard of Lee Kuan Yew, the preeminent leader of Singapore, and possibly one of the best world leaders of the last century. Mr. Lee took Singapore from a struggling third world country to a highly advanced nation in a matter of forty years. In an interview a few years ago he answered how he was able to turn the country around, stating, “We just tried to answer one question: ‘How do we get there?’” His words impacted me. Could it be that simple, I thought. It is a simple question to ask, but a very difficult one to answer it. But Lee Kuan Yew did.
- Who should create the strategy? While I suppose anyone can, preferably strategists should. The leader just needs to be certain solid strategies have been discussed and evaluated, whether he presides over the process or not. And of course, he must be willing to take final responsibility for its execution and final result.
- Start where you are. Planning and strategy begin with understanding where you are now. Not where you wish you were, or where you hoped you would be, but where you actually are. Only then can we try to plan our route to our destination.
- Two areas to focus on as you create your strategy. First, focus on asking why. Kenichi Ohmae says, “The strategist’s method is to challenge the prevailing assumptions with a single question: Why?” Answering why turns tactics into strategy. Second, make your customer the center of your attention. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he turned the company around. He said, “We’ve tried to come up with a strategy and vision for Apple. It started with: ‘What incredible benefits can we give the customer?’ It did not start with: ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers, and figure out what awesome technology we have. And then let’s figure out how to market that.’”
- Stick to your strategy. A frequently changed strategy is the same as no strategy. If we don’t stick to our strategy, it is useless to us.
Gary Kasparov, the legendary Russian chess world champion says this about strategy.
Every move has a consequence; every move either fits into your strategy or it doesn’t. If you aren’t questioning your moves consistently, you will lose to the player who is playing with a coherent plan. - Gary Kasparov
Actionable step: Make sure you have a strategy created, written, and reviewed by as many stake holders and smart people as you can rally.
The Book I Just Read: Made in America: My Story by Sam Walton (The founder of Wal-Mart). This is Sam Walton’s autobiography, written in a practical approach and the purpose to share the principles that led him to success. I recommend this book for anyone thinking big, but seeking a role model on how to stay humble and true to their customers and staff.
For Further Reading: