I did a blog on business planning previously and for me, you can’t really write a business plan unless you’ve got some kind of strategy that underpins it. If a business strategy isn’t written down and no-one knows about it, is it really a strategy?
A definition of strategy
The term strategy throws up different connotations. Google says strategy is ‘a plan of action, designed to achieve a long term or overall aim,’ or the ‘art of planning and directing overall military operations’, so strategy in a specific context. Both definitions have a long-term feel about them and I think that’s where some of the tension comes, as more and more businesses look to become more agile, reactive and focus more on the short-term.
Mind you, if someone asked me about the Cypher strategy, I am not sure I have a coherent answer. We knew what we wanted the firm to be; we knew we wanted to be different because we saw an opportunity to do so and now a lot of the industry is moving into the space that we’re in and we are working hard to keep that first mover advantage.
In his capacity as a business coach Alan suggested that our vision is to stay two steps ahead of the mainstream in our industry; that is our strategic intent and the set of actions that underpin this will become our strategy.
If the first definitions of a strategy lend themselves to a big old plan that achieves something spectacular in the long run, then perhaps a more useful way for businesses today to consider a strategy is to think about, for example, how to create the best customer care on the high street, or how to gain 200 clients within six months and to then create a set of actions to achieve these goals. This feels like more nimble, agile and quite frankly more doable. Being achievable is surely a key element of any strategy after all!
Another definition of a strategy then is ‘a set of actions that win’. So think of two or three spaces you want to win in and create a set of actions to get there. In this regard, I am comfortable considering a strategy as the culmination of four 90-day plans.
90 – Day planning
Looking too far ahead loses helpfulness. The reason we are all told to create 90-day plans is that the human brain is simply not wired to fixate on a goal five years out. You need to be succinct in your strategy so that it’s easier for you as the business owner or the senior managers or whomever to digest and action it.
When a strategy is broken down into smaller chunks, it also offers you more opportunities to see wins, to see progress towards bigger goals. You tick a box; get a pat on the back and then move on to the next 90-day chunk.
If you are ready to take control of 2022, come to a Growth Club event on Wednesday 12th January. In conjunction with action Coach Newbury, we will look at alignment for the whole year and you will leave with clear goals and a 90 day plan in place.
Apple’s Agenda for 2011
Earlier this year Apple were engaged in a major legal battle with Epic Games, about the distribution of funds from games sold through the app store. During the trial, internal emails from Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs were released including an agenda for a 2010 meeting of the 100 most influential Apple employees. At the time Apple were in the middle of a massive pivot; the I-phone and I-pad were in their infancy, Apple was engaged in another war with Google and preparing the ground work for their new headquarters in California. There were six points on this agenda.
The first two points were internal facing questions; who are we and what do we do? His point was that the business then was not what it was about to be and that in five years’ time it would become something else again.
Next was a point about the products and positioning and moving into the post PC era, stealing a great chunk of market share from laptops by encouraging consumers to do IT things in the palm of their hands. The fourth bullet was about competitors called ‘the holy war with Google’, who themselves were growing an empire away from the search engine into hardware and had started to overlap with Apple products.
The fifth point was around the wider tech landscape, suggesting that 2011 would be the year of the cloud as businesses and individuals learned to operate within the cloud environment that is now standard. The sixth and final point was to focus on Apple’s subsequent move to a $5bn, 176 acre site as its new headquarters.
In the five years after this agenda, Apple was probably the most successful business on the planet, but you could take this agenda and apply it almost any business and it would create a very decent strategic set of action points.
Let’s be honest, how many businesses or business owners create a marketing strategy and a recruitment strategy and a procurement strategy and a technology strategy? How many can compartmentalise these distinct functions and how many of us let them merge into one? Given the impact optimising any one of these functions can have on a business overall, there’s definitely value in picking them apart and then bringing them back together under one overarching strategy.
Getting clarity and identifying spaces you want your business to win in – and what winning looks like – whether that be attracting the best people or offering the client experience, creating a healthier cash flow; the big rocks that Stephen Covey would say make the biggest positive impact on your company- identify those and create the set of actions that will drive those outcomes.
What do you want to achieve
Lastly, as a business owner, before you build your strategy, it’s important that you ask yourself what you want to achieve. If you build a strategy around confusion, you’re going to create more confusion, if you build a strategy around clarity, you’re going to get clarity. And achievement – or winning – isn’t the same for everyone.
Strategy is about setting objectives to be achieved over a set of 90-day periods that lead to wider goals. Strategies can only help you win if you know what winning looks like to you.
New Year, new idea
There is never a bad time, but the next few weeks might provide the time and space for business owners to become galvanized and enthused about the word strategy again. Space to think about will lead to strategic intent; your vision or mission, which gives you a purpose. Clarity of purpose, using Steve Jobs’ six agenda items, answers the big questions –the big rocks – which will create a strategic set of actions.
Identifying who you are and what you do, who the big competitor is – as well as recognising that it may not be the obvious choice, but someone that offers your customer the same result but with a completely different product or service- is another big piece of the puzzle along with the landscape of your industry and big plans you may have on the horizon.