We talk about ‘strategy’ all the time in business and in marketing. Brand strategy, growth strategy, product strategy, distribution strategy, pricing strategy, media strategy, creative strategy, sell strategy… the list goes on.
It’s a much over-used word, which has led it to becoming somewhat misunderstood. Many people associate it with complexity and grandiose thinking, which I’ve always found amusing considering that designing a strategy is about working out the best way to get something done by simplifying and consolidating the information to hand – not complicating it further.
I love the analogy that if a fish in a bowl were to develop a strategy, it would simply be to circle around the tank and repeat. That’s it. That’s a strategy. It simply means ‘how’ you are going to achieve an objective. Ok, so I’m simplifying it to illustrate a point, but in essence, that’s what strategy is. It’s the roadmap that gets you to the destination, the plan of ‘how’ you’ll achieve a goal.
And what’s more, everyone is capable of developing a strategy. In fact, we use ‘strategies’ every day to complete basic tasks such as our morning routine. The unconscious mind operates on strategies, which it stores and brings to the conscious as required. Otherwise, how would you know how to tie your shoe?
That’s right, you already have hundreds of strategies stored in your brain; strategies are how you communicate with yourself everyday, and how you manage to get things done. Not so scary now, huh? Just kind of regular, really.
Yet, when it comes to business, so many of us skip the strategy and jump straight to the execution.
So, what is it that causes us to shy away from investing in the design of a strategy? And how do we remove those barriers so that strategy becomes a natural part of how we communicate with ourselves in relation to our business?
If you tend to jump straight into execution, then you may be experiencing any one the four components making up the FEAR Factor.
- Failure – Strategy forces us to make decisions that close certain doors because that is its nature; and that cause fear that if we’ve chosen the wrong approach, we might fail.
- Excess – feeling like there is too much information already and not knowing where to start as a result
- Avoidance – thinking it’ll be ok without a strategy, or thinking that developing a strategy is ‘too hard’
- Resource – not having the time, money, or skill to be strategic
We all have a healthy ego that tells us we must always ‘be right’ and we must ‘look good’. As such, we fear getting things wrong, and looking bad as a result, which can leave us completely paralysed, and resistant of anything that forces us to make a choice about which direction to take. Without a strategy, you are reaching far and wide, spreading resources thinly to attempt to achieve your goal in any which way you can. As a result, you often achieve nothing at all. It takes a mindset shift, but the simple fact is that developing a strategy forces you to ‘close’ certain doors, which in turn focusses your efforts and your resources. As a result, you take a unique approach to achieving your goal, enabling you to stand out from others, which in itself gets noticed. If one strategy doesn’t work for you, you can always try another; but without one at all, how can you know what worked, and what didn’t? Overall, puttting a considered plan in place before execution makes failure less likely, and if necessary, you can adjust your course in an organised, confident manner.
One of the key skillsets of a strategist is the ability to take large amounts of information, whether knowledge, data, or existing ideas and content; and identify the salient imperatives that form the right approach to address the objectives, and reach the destination ahead. It is definitely a skill to be able to do this. However, anyone can give it a go; but you’ll need to shift your mindset so as not to get overwhelmed. The easiest way to approach what I call the ‘messy’ part of strategy is to embrace the mess! Get stuck into, underneath of, and all around the information, the data and existing knowledge base. Read it, consume it, then form a general impression of what you’ve read, but do so within a set timeframe. Once you have a general impression, you can right down all the hypotheses you have, then head back into the information to pull out specific proof points to firm up your contentions.
It’s much harder to decipher the right approach to something, than to begin tasks and filter their success with trial and error mentality. It’s much more efficient though to take a step back, invest some time in developing the right approach, and save on draining resources in the long run. If you tend to put strategy in the ‘too hard’ basket, remember that you will invest far more time, money and effort without a strategy.
“Execution without a strategy is a journey across unknown terrain without the route planning, the compass, the map, or the provisions for survival; much less successful arrival at your destination”.
For some, it’s a question of missing resource (time, money, energy) that tells you; “I don’t have [x resource] to invest in strategy”. With anything we want to achieve, there is a common misconception (aka excuse!) that time, money or some other type of resource are missing from our reality. Good strategy does take time, and if you use a professional to develop it for you, then of course, it also takes money. But up front investment is imperative for long-term gains. We all fear the concept of ‘waste’, but spending time to plan your business, your marketing or your communications is never wasted. If you can make time for execution of tasks within your business, then you can re-prioritise and make time for strategy up front. Review the time you spend on executing tasks for your business, and ask yourself whether this time is well spent? If you spent the time putting a plan in place before you started executing, would it make the use of your time more efficient? Would you actually get more done, and in a more structured, organised way as a result? You know the answer is yes!