Strategy is a word that comes up over and over again in business. You’ve got to have the right strategy; marketing strategies, finance strategies, HR strategies; you can find all sorts of strategy building advice and templates online (Google produces 638 million results for the search term “business strategy”); but really… What is business strategy?
Michael Porter defined a business strategy as the “broad formula for how a business is going to compete, what its goals should be, and what policies will be needed to carry out those goals”.
That’s a pretty good definition, in essence a strategy is the route map for getting from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.
So to work out a strategy you need two things: a clear picture of what “here” looks like, and a good idea of where “there” is.
What?! If you don’t know where you want to be in the future this is a good time to stop and think about it!
Why are you doing what you’re doing? What would you like to be doing? What do you enjoy and what would you like to change? This isn’t your strategy – they are your goals or objectives.
These are big ideas, they take a bit of thinking about. But what I’ve learned is that you don’t need to know all the answers for certain at this stage – if you start now you have time on your side, time to move the goal posts more than once!
Possibly an easier question is “What don’t you want? What shouldn’t the future be like?” most of us have a pretty good idea straight away.
You can’t build a strategy without a good idea of your current circumstances. The route map analogy is useful here – a map won’t help you get home unless you can work out where you are starting from so it pays to take some time to write down what you’ve got that you like and enjoy and what you are not so happy about.
When you know where you’re starting from and where you’re going to the final piece of the jigsaw is to link the two up – set out your preferred route from “here” to “there” in a series of manageable steps.
It is often difficult to see where to start in order to make progress (if it was easy you would have already got there!) but it can be much easier if you break the route down into smaller steps. Over the following years you can weigh up every decision you make against this strategy and see whether or not it will help you reach your goal.
At the moment I am reading The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab. In it Andy McNab points out that “meaning is like psychological oxygen” – knowing why you’re working hard is the most effective personal power source.
He then goes on to tell a story that illustrates how (in his words) “There’s nothing like a task that is both pointless and physically draining to rip the **** out of you, especially if you don’t know when it’s going to end.”
To me this is where the biggest benefit of a strategy is – if you know that you’re on your way to your better world your effort is not pointless. You are working towards something, you can measure your progress along the way.