Writing a Strategy?
Strategy is only as good as its execution. We present 10 learnings to ensure your strategy document is execution ready.
You’ve defined the problem, conducted months of user-centred research, assessed commercial viability and benchmarked your approach. You now know how to win, and you’re ready to draft a winning strategy document. The goal is to align the culture, people and resources required to execute successfully.
Articulating the purpose and the outcomes, along with all the data and insights, into an easy to digest document can be a real challenge. Here’s what we’ve learnt from our work with a broad range of clients from tech start-ups out of East Africa, to emerging market leaders in Asia, global food giants and some of New Zealand’s most influential companies.
We’ve learnt that a strategy is a journey we’re asking others to take with us. We’re asking a specific group of people to change their attitudes and behaviours (i.e. culture) which will get them from A to B.
Therefore, a strategy document is the road map and communication plan for execution. It needs to demonstrate credibility and build confidence in our ability to take said group of people from point A to B.
Here are 10 common attributes we’ve recognised in winning strategy documents:
1. PEOPLE MUST ALWAYS BE AT THE HEART OF THE STORY
We must be clear on who we’re asking to come on the journey; the people affecting the change and the people affected by the change. We need to demonstrate we understand their needs, capabilities, fears and limitations. We may also want to think about external parties that can enable us to reach our destination (e.g. government agencies) or may prevent us (e.g. competitors).
2. LEAD WITH THE ‘WHY’
Why are we taking the journey? What is wrong with the status quo (location A) and why is change (to location B) more beneficial? The why will always be more compelling when we can demonstrate alignment with organisational purpose and vision as well as how the why can benefit the individual (who).
3. DRAW THE MAP
Based on our understanding of the who, we need to clearly articulate HOW we’re going to get from A to B. This is essentially our methodology which needs to map the possible pathways and the obstacles we’re likely to face along the way. The map must also show what success looks like (i.e. how will life be different when you reach B?).
4. LEARN FROM OTHERS
We’ve always benefited from mapping the journeys of others within adjacent categories and industries who’ve taken similar paths. These shared learnings on execution can highlight the best paths to take and which common mistakes to avoid. Validated approaches can also instil confidence that it can be done.
5. CULTIVATE BELONGING AND ACCOUNTABILITY
We’ve found momentum occurs when everyone understands how they contribute to the journey and how the journey can contribute to their success (‘think win win’, Stephen Covey). Once people understand the big picture and their accountabilities in it, a clear plan with smart goals will help people get behind us.
6. MULTIPLE AND FREQUENT TOUCH-POINTS
Our strategy document is only the manifesto, the guiding document which aligns the revolution. Several tools are needed to communicate and keep the strategy front of mind. These tools should make it easy for anyone in our team to articulate the strategy.
We’ve found the following to be helpful:
The use of professional yet straightforward language (strong verbs, short sentences)
A 30 second elevator pitch (a clear call to action)
A simple diagram which captures the pillars of the strategy (make it easy to visualise)
A reporting tool to keep the group updated on progress (regular, consistent messaging)
A simple, clear presentation (tell the whole story in less than 20 minutes)
7. CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY
Particularly within large organisations, we’re stretched with multiple priorities and commitments. If we’re to maintain the momentum we need to empower others to affect change and depending on the situation, fan the fires of discontent in the status quo.
8. ACKNOWLEDGE VULNERABILITY
When using design thinking principles to develop the strategy, success becomes an iterative process. We will reach dead ends and things will go wrong before we achieve success. Therefore, we need to allow for learning. By acknowledging vulnerability, we maintain conviction in the process and the destination but allow for flexibility in how we get there.
A valuable lesson we’ve learnt in executing is always to communicate the pivots. When a change of direction is required, it is imperative to ensure everyone on the journey is aware of the change and why a change of direction was required. Take everyone with you.
9. NON-BELIEVERS WELCOME
Selling the strategy to non-believers is critical. Understanding their objections can identify blind spots within the strategy. Once on board they may even help convert those who are ambivalent towards the strategy. Therefore, we recommend you spend a little more time to understand the real objections from non-believers.
10. BE RELENTLESS AND CONSISTENT
The power of applying human centred design to strategy development is the confidence it provides to be persistent in the pursuit of the outcome. You can trust in the process because you’re looking to effect meaningful change, therefore never give up; if in doubt default to the process.
We have always found a well-crafted story which accounts for organisational culture is an intuitive method for communicating a strategy. However, as societal and environmental challenges demand more from our strategies, we’re eager to hear your experiences and insights in strategy execution best practice. We believe that it’s only together we can solve the needs of our businesses, our customers and the planet.
What are the most challenging aspects of strategy execution within your sector?
How do you create a sense of urgency?
How do you recognise real objections from non-believers from their resistance or fear of change?