AJC Playbook: What’s the best strategy for us?

Developing a Strategy, while often considered a “Blue Sky” activity, necessarily must be grounded in the current reality of the organization and its environment. Only when taking these things into account, coupled with knowledge of the type of growth you want and your Vision for the future, can an effective Strategy be determined. Thus, the best strategy for your organization will take into account the following four items:

  1. Your current state
  2. Macro effects and trends
  3. Your Vision for the future state, coupled with your desired pace of growth
  4. Alignment to your Mission and Values

It is important to “confirm the present” or understand the current state of what is happening at your organization right now. There are so many ways to slice and dice this, but from a basic standpoint – it is getting at information both objective and subjective around the organization’s current product and/or service health, people, processes, technology, and financial standings. Are these things working in harmony to deliver value to paying customers?

Review our 40 Questions for a Current State Business Review and come prepared

An organization preparing its strategy should also understand the macro effects that shape the world and especially the industry.  How will those forces affect what the organization should or wants to accomplish? Also, the Strategic Plan should be intentionally revisited whenever these macro forces shift materially (read: in the case of an unforeseen global pandemic) or at least annually. Is the strategy still valid, given the current trends or situation?

Listen to our 5 Tips for Innovative Strategic Planning Lunch and Learn for more information on how to get to this point in your Strategic Planning. AJC also facilitates this type of Strategic planning.

Now that your Leadership Team has warmed up by reviewing your current situation, both internal to the company, and on an external macro level, you can start discussing ideas for the strategy which will lead you toward your future state Vision, taking into account your desired pace of growth. Note that your strategic angles may shift over time, though should always be moving you forward, similar to how you may plan to compete in a long event; you may go faster or slower at different points based on the current state, while always moving forward toward the finish line.

As you brainstorm, consider the kind of business you are. In Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema argue that there are three basic strategic trajectories:

  1. Product or Technology Leadership – “Best Product” –  think Apple – the latest and greatest, or Nike – the coolest brand
  2. Operational Excellence – “Best Total Cost” – think WalMart – best value, or Intel – best manufacturing
  3. Customer Intimacy – “Best Total Solution” – think Disney “the happiest place on earth”, or Amazon – easy to find anything and have it delivered to your door

Which area will allow your organization to thrive? Is your answer what you want it to be given your Vision? Specifically, if you are like WalMart, does your Vision assume that you are like Amazon? How can you prepare for this?

If you get stuck, start by asking this question (inspired by The 4 Disciplines of Execution  by Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey):
If everything else stayed the same, what one or two areas would have the most impact on the business were they to change?

Leadership Teams may find it challenging to break out of the basic “Safety, Quality, Productivity” style approach that they recognize as necessary to run a going concern. Asking the question above allows them to move past those areas if they are already working well. After all, improving something which is already going very well offers diminishing returns, whereas if something is broken or not working well, focusing additional effort there could yield a greater impact for the company.

For example, if your growth goal is to grow fast or even incrementally, you may think back to the “confirm the present” discussion reviewing data on your existing customers and analysis of what percent of your customers comprise the top 80% of your revenue. This may lead to a strategy of growth with this type of “ideal client profile” – rather than “organic” or non-focused prospecting; following the “Customer Intimacy” strategic path. Or if your sales engine is working well, and your issue is managing your product or service delivery in a scalable fashion (i.e. with few to no new hires), perhaps your strategy will be to optimize your operating system technology and retrain your workforce, following the “Operational Excellence” strategic path.

At this time, it is important to allow ideas to flow freely – we recommend at least an hour of straight “blue-sky” brainstorming – no holds barred. Sometimes the first idea is not the best one, rather it takes riffing off each other for more and more ideas to come out. If the first idea is shot down because it is “infeasible” – the next ones won’t even have a chance to surface. (This type of brainstorming will hold true in later sections of the Playbook as well.)

As your group articulates ideas, someone needs to capture these (we call this person the Scribe) while someone else is facilitating the discussion. The end result will be a list of Strategic opportunities that will have to be evaluated, grouped, and sequenced to help you reach your organization’s Vision.

Working Genius Note – Growth Strategy

Here is where the Working Genius model truly begins to shine, as determining a strategic path is the first step in doing any kind of work. While you will prepare with current state data about the company (which should be prepared ahead of time by D/E/T team members), the Wonder and Invention team members will truly shine when you start discussing macro effects and ideas for how to change in a way that will really impact the business. During this discussion, the other geniuses (even – actually especially Discernment) – need to play down their geniuses.  Because the first idea is not always the best one, it is important to wait for the brainstorming to be over before starting the discernment process. If the first idea is shot down because it is “infeasible” – the next ones won’t even have a chance to surface. Discernment geniuses especially need to bite their tongues during the brainstorming / wonder session – your time will come!

Galvanizers too need to play down their geniuses during brainstorming. It is natural for Galvanizers to want to get moving on ideas – that goes double if the Galvanizer’s second Genius is Enablement. These amazingly helpful people will want to rally and get started, though it would be premature to do that at this time because the ideas have not yet been discerned.

People with Tenacity, or Enablement/Tenacity may feel frustrated in this conversation, especially if they feel like they are being called on to add ideas to the list. Remember that if Invention/Wonder is not someone’s genius, it is okay to let people listen only. So long as the entire team feels comfortable adding to the ideas, they can be asked for input in a no-pressure way that doesn’t “require” them to fabricate an idea if it’s just not their thing.

For teams that do not have members with Wonder/Invention geniuses, you can augment with team members from other areas of the organization or with consultants. Eventually it may be desirable to hire or promote someone to the Leadership Team who fills that gap.

Read the previous article in our AJC Playbook Series: How do we define Mission and Vision?

Read the next article in our AJC Playbook Series: How do we create a Strategic Roadmap Leading to our Vision?

Link back to AJC Playbook: Sharing our Methodology (and Running Table of Contents)