Last week, I kicked off a series of posts focused on corporate strategy. I want to make these part theory and part practice, a way to mine the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years for insights—hopefully folks out there will find them not only valuable, but good conversation starters for sharing their own thoughts and experiences.

In the last post, I shared my thoughts on why strategy is important:

I think strategy often gets a bad rap as a means of procrastinating, a form of analysis-paralysis, or, at the very least, a non-value-adding exercise: We don’t have time for strategy—we need to get something done.

But I would argue that getting the wrong thing done is worse than doing nothing at all. And without strategic planning, you have a lower probability not only of doing the right thing, but of doing it well.

What’s implied in these statements is that doing strategic planning poorly is worse than not doing strategic planning at all. And so with that, let’s take a look at one technique I’ve used successfully for doing it well.

A strategy needs goals to be effective

Strategy isn’t an end in itself, it’s a means to some end: by following the strategy, you accomplish something, i.e., your goals.

This may seem obvious–who does something without knowing what their goals are? But I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve worked with that have embarked upon a strategy without a clear articulation of their goals.

And even when an organization has articulated a goal for their strategy, more often than not, the goal is a proximate one rather than final, i.e., the “goal” is itself a means to some other end. For example, an organization that decides to do an enterprise content management (ECM) strategy in order to improve records management (RM). This seems like a good goal until you ask, “why do we want to improve RM?”

The answer, of course, is to better comply with laws and regulations (keeping the organization in business and reducing fines and judgments), to reduce the amount of content that’s over-retained (lowering storage and support costs for both paper and electronic repositories), and to reduce the amount of hours end-users spend doing RM tasks (giving them time to do higher-value activities).

These are all final goals because there is no further “why” about them. No one will ask you, “why should we reduce IT storage costs?”–this is an end in itself for an organization.

And when you get right down to it, there are really only three categories of final goals an organization cares about: those that lower cost, those that increase margins, and those that increase revenue. Anything that doesn’t contribute to one of these three is a tough sell, even when the economy is good.

Setting your goals

Now that we’re taken a closer look at the kind of goals a strategy needs to have to be effective, let’s explore one technique for goal setting that I’ve found particularly successful.

You begin by gathering the relevant stakeholders together and asking them to suggest ideas for what the strategy should accomplish, i.e., the priorities, values, goals, and so on that they think would be valuable things to achieve. At this point, the aim is to generate ideas, not reach final consensus, so just let folks brainstorm and discourage editorializing on the suggestions.

Here’s a real world example of how this works, based on a customer communication management (CCM) strategy I’m currently building for an insurance company. This is the laundry list of priorities, values, goals, etc. the team came up with for communicating with customers:

  • Speed to market
  • The right communication
  • The right message at the right time
  • Right amount of content
  • Easy for the customer
  • Save costs
  • Higher quality service at a lower price
  • Appropriately compliant
  • Consistency
  • Accessibility
  • Self-service
  • Customer centric
  • Centrally coordinated
  • Increase brand loyalty and improve the customer’s experience with us

These are all great things to aspire to, but if they tried to do all of them, they would likely fail–a list like this is just too diverse to be actionable, especially when the organization needs to make tough decisions about tradeoffs.

The final word

So far so good: you know that you need goals and have a first step towards determining them. In the next post, we’ll turn to a consideration of how you can narrow a list like this down to an actionable top two that will form the foundation of not only your strategy, but your execution against that strategy as well.

In the meantime, share your thoughts, questions, comments, or general heckling–would love to get a conversation going around all this…so don’t be afraid to jump in.


One Response

  1. You’re right on Joe…. I’m loving this topic.

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