We live in a world where knowledge is power. But in the business sense, it’s only powerful if you can make change – market-leading, revenue-building, profitable change. Too wide or too narrow a focus on your objectives, and it’s difficult to make calculated decisions that can be measured. But how do you get just the right amount of focus, without micro-managing and impacting on results? Strategy.
Strategy is critical for business success, and you won’t grow without one. You need to set the right targets, and aligning the right people with your available technology will serve as support to achieving them.
The problem is, most companies think they have a strategy in place, when really they’re just working off one giant project list (the operational plan) with no idea how to turn a goal into a genuinely successful initiative.
Get your strategy right, and your business health will advance swiftly. Your people will see tangible results – they’ll see change right in front of them and this generates conversation from the ground up. Breakout thinking from your employees – that’s where the best ideas come from.
Delivering on your vision
Without a solid strategy, you’ll have no clear competitive advantage. You’re just working from a glamorised to-do list, at best. You’ve got the ‘what’ covered with your list of objectives, but not the ‘why’. It’s the ‘why’ that helps you execute.
A bold, exciting strategy will be a huge people motivator (especially in a performance culture) for getting the job done and finding ways to add more value. Your team and your customers will see the positive change and be 100% on board with their role in the process. And when things don’t go to plan, you have options for switching things up and coming from a new direction.
Leave strategy to chance, and you probably won’t retain market share because your competitors will leapfrog over you as they evolve their own businesses. It’ll be hard to drive revenue growth as products and services flounder without development. And whatever it is that makes you unique will likely take a hit, too. Put simply, you’ll have no direction.
The trick to delivering on a good strategy is to find a balance between remaining too ‘big picture’ and getting caught up in the detail. Most businesses don’t do this well, and when you’re resource or time-poor, it’s easy to allow continued disconnect between your vision and what the company is actually doing on the ground. Alternatively, you could find that you focus on what you know instead of what is the best for the business. This can mean lost opportunities and a setback for productivity – and Board members won’t take that lightly.
"...you could find that you focus on what you know instead of what is the best for the business. This can mean lost opportunities and a setback for productivity – and Board members won’t take that lightly."
Strategic change – plan, do, review
Failure is a strong word, but a great leader won’t be put off by it – in business it can be a positive thing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a plan failing, or throwing out an idea if you hit a dead end. Regardless of the time or money invested, if it’s clearly not working – move on. Each ‘failure’ is simply a practice run, narrowing the focus to what will eventually be successful. The point here: just do it, and keep planning.
What’s important, as a part of your strategic plan, is to identify why something didn’t work and factor that into future strategy. Ask more questions: What can you do with the evidence in your revenue that demonstrated it wasn’t viable? Can you make better use of the resources you have? Can you hear the market (is your frontline listening?) What is it telling you? Every bit of feedback can be resolved organically through the strategic-change cycle, rather than splitting it out into a long list of ‘issues’ that need to be micro-managed.
Along with this, you need to understand each part of your value chain – what is going on in each step. Identify downward trends – revenue, sales, etc – and eliminate them; be opportunistic on the upward trends and exploit them. You’ll have to ask some tough questions – can you break down each movement of revenue and each action from your team? How do you maximise each result? And your customers – are their voices the focus?
By understanding how each part of the chain works and learning from the results, you’ll spot change, recognise ideas, and be ahead of the game. And that’s your competitive advantage.
Connect your strategy to operations
Your strategic plan feeds into the operational plan, where the bulk of change happens. Management allocates projects, budgets and resources as they see fit, and in theory, everyone collaborates to check items off the list.
But the operational plan is there to deliver on the strategic plan – it needs to flow both ways.
Think about your strategic plan as an hourglass. When you start time, your key initiatives flow from the top. As the sand pours, the operational plan (your individual business units) takes form, and this flows on to each employee.
Flip the hourglass over again, and individual project successes feeds back into the operational plan, completing (or not) a key initiative of the strategic plan.
Capturing the insights as the hourglass turns is where the success of your strategy becomes clear. Wins, losses, what the customer is saying – you’ll have the knowledge of exactly what to change and what needs to stay put. Then you start all over again; it’s a moving feast, a cycle – plan, do, review.
"As a leader, driving change in the right direction is hard. That’s why your strategy needs to be clear, bold and properly executed."
Automation for a clear future
Technology means you can be fast and nimble in a marketplace that demands results. Automation saves you time, money and other resources. It allows you to really use information and insights, spot movements in revenue, and ask, ‘What did we change to make that happen? How do we keep doing it – and scale it?’
A central management system is crucial for effective planning across your business – more accurate reporting, bringing together cross-function insights, and allowing for better decision-making. Integrating tools within tools is critical to ensuring you remain focused on your strategic direction and hit those milestones.
Think about a strategic executive plan. You’re given X number of years to cover three key initiatives. Those initiatives are spread across business units and broken down into projects. The break-down continues until every individual across the business has a defined list of targets.
With automation in place, you can sit around that boardroom table every quarter and have a straightforward conversation based on those clearly defined criteria. You’ll review progress and isolate priority changes. For example:
- This is what’s missing
- This is your new goal
- This is how you get there
- This is the expected result
When you loop back next quarter, it’ll be even simpler:
- This is your result
- This is the impact
- This is what’s next
With automation, your team will move from an old-school view of ‘meetings and directions’ to a new-school, and much more inclusive, view of ‘conversations and action’. You’ll have a clear understanding of where the growth and/or problem areas are, and how to fix them. You won’t be wasting time trying to figure it all out.
High employee satisfaction = happy customers. And by implementing a solid strategy that includes automation, and executing it, you’ll spend less time on internal issues and instead, provide a launch pad for growth – at an individual level and in your numbers. You’ll also see a broader shift of focus towards market issues. So, not only will you gain market share because of this shift, your company will gain credibility from customers, by positioning yourself as a leader in the field.
"You’ll have a clear understanding of where the growth and/or problem areas are, and how to fix them. You won’t be wasting time trying to figure it all out."
Strategy and execution grow businesses
Influencing the mindset of your people, working efficiently, and investing in automation for your business will see your strategy effectively executed. There’s no doubt that you still need an operational plan, but by implementing a solid strategy that is ambitious, logical, and flows in the right direction (and to all the right people), you’ll be improving the health and overall direction of your business.