Yes, in my early consulting career I consumed way too much in client funds creating beautiful, unassailable Strategic plans in thick, fancy three-ring binders. That never made any difference…..
It wasn’t that the plans were wrong. They would have worked. With devastating effectiveness! The trouble was that my team and I were generally the only ones who understood them well enough to be committed to their Execution.
Sure, sometimes we’d get solid buy-in from the CEO and a few members of the executive team. But not enough to overcome the remaining organizational reluctance to change things as much as they needed to change. From the top, all the way down.
It took me some time to come up with an alternative approach. That works. But I did.
The result: no more than five short bullets — fewer than eight words each — on one side of an index card. And my current view of this approach to Strategy versus evidentiary quality binders? If you can’t get it down to forty words on an index card …. you just haven’t thought about it hard enough!
The beauty of the Index Card Strategy, of course, is that everyone can understand the whole scheme. And remember it. They can also see how the five or fewer initiatives work together, reinforce one another and can imagine in totality how their company might be different, and better, when the plan is in place.
But a big remaining open questions remain, “How do you come up with the three, four or five strategies, and what qualifies as a Strategy?
The lynchpin is in the previous article of this series. If you haven’t read it, or don’t recall the story clearly, click here.
It’s an urging for you, in your job at the top, to be the custodian of the Mission of your business. Your Mission is the next heroic objective that you have convinced yourself and everyone else is a possibility for your business. A stretch, but a possibility. With a timeline that is far enough out to be an eye-popping accomplishment, but close enough in to have an edge.
Index Card Strategy is then simply the handful of things you need to make happen to move from the current reality of your business, to your Mission. Things that you need to do in order to keep your business healthy and moving forward as it is today don’t qualify. Strategies are different. They’re the things that will transform your business into something genetically better than it is today.
They generally include things like implanting yourself with new categories of customers. Changing or broadening your offering to address new and compelling needs. Repositioning how you are seen as a company. And usually adding new competencies and discontinuing others to support all of the rest.
For those following the series, these ideas should sound familiar from the July article titled, “Your Business on the Back of an Envelope.”
In fact, Strategies are things that change your Back of the Envelope business concept. Lesser things that don’t qualify as Strategies. Important but, those things are improvement initiatives, not Strategies.
Once you’ve settled on a set of five our fewer real Strategies that you believe will carry you to your Mission, your final and determining step, Execution, becomes a lot easier. Easier to plan and budget. And easier for everyone to understand.
Execution is simply the collection of mini-plans that correspond to each Strategy. Three, four or five Strategies; three, four or five Execution plans.
Of course there are feedback loops. You may find out, for example, that the Execution plans are beyond your means, or may not have the financial resources at the time to support the investment. Simple. Go back and re-specify you Strategies and try again.
It’s unfortunate that the black eye of Strategy from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s has turned so many people in jobs at the top entirely away from the idea. Don’t be one of those. Electrify your organization with a simle and compelling set of Strategies and Execution plans linked directly to a noble and deeply inspiring Mission. That’s your job. And no one else’s.
Dick Cross is the founder and Managing Principal of The Cross Partnership III, a twenty-year-old, Boston-based, “hands-on” consulting and turn-around firm focused on improving the operating and financial performance of businesses owned by financial sponsors. Over the past decade, Dick has served as an interim President/CEO, leading successful business transitions in eight companies over the past twelve years.