A little mouse was lost in a dense wood, unable to find his way out. He came upon a wise old owl sitting in a tree. “Excuse me, wise old owl, how can I get out of this wood?” said the mouse.
“Easy,” said the owl, “Grow wings and fly out, as I do.”
“But how can I grow wings?” asked the mouse.
The owl looked at him haughtily, then said, “Don’t bother me with the details, I only advise on strategy”!
There was a time, way back in my middle-management days, when I wouldn’t have known a strategy if I’d fallen over it. I knew the word, of course, heard it bandied about all over, usually with knobs on…strategic planning, strategic management, strategy execution, etc. It was a buzzword, often used to elevate the speaker’s ego and, hopefully, keep them safe from having to actually do any work.
Somewhat naively, I mentioned this gap in my education to my boss at the annual round of paying lip service to your personal development plan. I said, “I think I’d like to learn to be more strategic”. He looked at me, rolled his eyes and then said “we’ve enough strategists in this business already, what we really need is people who actually do things, not sit round planning how someone else is going to do things”.
Perhaps that sentiment goes some way to explaining why many businesses lack much by way of a strategy. It’s probably a combination of our national British pragmatism, coupled with our long-held Victorian work ethic: “Labor Omnia Vincit”, as it says high up in Leeds Town Hall, “Work conquers all”.
In reality, however, it’s hard to accomplish much without a plan. And running around being a ‘busy fool’ is unlikely to get you to where you want to be. Whether you’re cooking or coaching, running a business or a marathon, you need a strategy.
In business, your strategy gives you the direction to reach the destination of your vision.
It’s your roadmap, your Sat Nav; it enables your vision to be real, tangible, reachable. Without it, your vision, assuming you have one, would be ethereal, pie-in-the-sky, a ‘nice-to-have, a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’, somewhere in a land, far, far away.
Being a strategist sounds boring and putting a strategy together may feel daunting but if we look at the component parts it’s actually a simple, straightforward process. The following steps may help you:
- Begin from where you actually are. Sometimes there’s a temptation to do our plan from where we’d like to be, or where we think we ought to be, but you have to keep it real and you need to be completely honest. This is where we often need support, from an objective source, in assessing the current position and condition of our business and ourselves.
- What’s important to you? Looking at your vision, what are the most important things to you about doing what you do? Is it having delighted and satisfied customers? Is it being great at your chosen profession? Leaving a legacy? Gaining a pension pot? Whatever the reason, it’s vital to establish your key drivers and motivators. This will inform your brand, your marketplace, your marketing, your longevity and the products and services you offer.
- Consider the journey. As with a literal journey, it’s wise to consider what we’re likely to encounter on the road ahead. Are we setting off with the proper equipment, e.g. funding, specialist knowledge and reliable support? Do we have contingencies for when the going gets tough? Who are you going to call (not Ghostbusters!)?
- Be clear about what you want to achieve. What does success look like for you? Not just achieving the ultimate vision but the everyday successes, too. These ‘little victories’ will be vital in keeping you positive, confident and motivated as you move forward.
- Regularly review your plan. The road will change and the destination may too. Many other complications will likely cause you to have to change course a number of times. That’s fine, as long as you regularly review your strategy, both formally and on an ad-hoc basis. Better still; review it with an objective friend, as it’s very easy to pretend everything looks OK when, in reality, some adjustments may need to be made.
Having a strategy is a ‘must’ but, as the words of the wise old owl show, it’s of no practical use unless it’s actually achievable, containing the right goals, plans and actions to help you reach your vision.
So, whether you’re a thinker or a doer, or a bit of both, you want a strategy with pragmatism, be a strategic pragmatist, or a pragmatic strategist. In running a business it’s not an ‘either or an or’, and taking the time to have an effective, practical and flexible strategy will enable you to fly out of the woods in no time!