At this time of year, businesses often contemplate what it is they’re doing next. The new financial year provides an opportunity to reflect on the year gone by, learn from twelve months of experience, and formulate new strategies to execute in the coming year.
Devising a strategy is all about making a choice between multiple positive outcomes. But as you contemplate what you’re going to do, why not consider these five things to excise from your strategy.
Item #1: Meaningless Sets of Values
If your business already has a set of values, we suggest you print them off, cover up any identifying logos or references to your business name, and ask a friend if they can identify the company from the set of values. If they can’t, the values are meaningless. Extra points if they sound like something from the inside of a fortune cookie. Double extra points if they include the words ‘integrity’, ‘teamwork’, ‘accountability’, ‘trust’, or ‘honesty’.
Instead of boilerplate, try coming up with the real differentiators for your business: the things that, if they weren’t present, would cause your company to stop being what it is. Consider the things that separate your business from the pack, and write those down. Forget ‘integrity’—that’s just table stakes. It’s hard to imagine a business trumpeting its record of ‘deceit’, isn’t it?
Item #2: Wordsmithing to Oblivion
Back in 1999, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, dressed up in a moustache and a wig at the invitation of then-Vice-Chairman of Logitech Pierluigi Zappacosta, and in one hour managed to convince the assembled executives of Logitech to change the mission statement of one of their divisions. The new mission statement?
The New Ventures mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings.
There’s a fun game of buzzword bingo, right there.
There’s a tendency with modern mission statements, along with other words created for wider consumption, to wring the absolute maximum from every single word on the page—presumably in an effort to achieve that much-vaunted ‘cut-through’.
Most of the time, these efforts are an abject failure and the words become more meaningless than a tangle of alphabet pasta thrown at a wall by a cranky three-year-old.
Instead of trying to make things ‘short’ or ‘punchy’ or ‘tight’ (what is a ‘tight’ word anyway?), why not try to make them unambiguous? Take as many words as you need to mean what you really mean, and make your edits when you’ve taken some time away from the material.
Item #3: Doing the same thing over (and over) again
Especially if your business is successful, it’s very easy to turn to each other in a strategic planning session, and just suggest ploughing on—saying: “well, let’s look at all the things we’re already committed to doing, and then see if there’s room to do something else”.
The problem with this approach is that without starting from (theoretical) scratch each time, your business may find itself either missing out on fantastic opportunities to reinvent itself or change its direction, or alternatively locked into a downward spiral, especially if your business is operating in a mature market.
For a genuine discussion about your business’s future, come to a strategic planning session with nothing more than an agreement on the purpose of your business, and go from there. Think critically about how that purpose fits in with what your business does, how it relates to the market, and whether your current plans are the best way you can bring the two together.
We guarantee you’ll find at least one significant avenue for improvement, every single year.
Item #4: Failure to Plan
It’s really easy to get to the end of a strategic planning session, flushed with the euphoria that comes from finally getting through to a consensus about something of vital significance to the future of your business…and then forget to spend time planning how to make all these great ideas into a reality.
The adage ‘those who fail to plan plan to fail’ applies in spades here. On Monday, everyone will be back at work. Emails will have piled up that require attention, the phone will ring, there’ll be people to see, things to do, and everything will suddenly seem vastly more urgent and important than devising specific steps toward achieving the goals you all spoke about last week.
After all, there were several other people there. Surely one of them will have documented everything and be working toward achieving their bit. Someone will call a meeting to review progress at some point. And besides, the ideas are so great that people will just have to pursue them.
Except they won’t. There’ll be no meeting, no plan, no progress—unless there’s a framework in place before you get back to the daily grind.
To avoid this, plan the execution of a strategy in ninety-day blocks, and ensure someone is made accountable for each strand of the strategy such that their ability to effectively execute their part of the strategy is featured heavily in their performance appraisal.
Item #5: Failure to Communicate
In that grand plan of yours from Item #4, don’t forget to include how your strategy will be communicated. Coming up with the strategy is one thing, but it’s of no use to anybody if only the Executive Team knows about it.
To remedy this, ensure that there is responsibility assigned to document the strategy, as well as to develop a plan to disseminate it throughout the organisation. Think about your message, your medium and the frequency of communication. If you want your employees to get on board with your strategy, they need to understand it as well as believe it.
Make sure your strategic planning is a success beyond the few days that you spend offsite. These are only five tips – but they may be the five that enable your strategy to deliver real value to your organisation.