Strategy Series, Part 1 – Toolkit for Dynamic Strategy; pick tools which allow you to ask the right questions

Dec 2017 | John Marik | sharing-business-ideas.com

I’m tired of clichés, buzzwords, complicated models, new templates and flock mentality in regards to strategy.  After years of trying to develop the “right” strategic framework I am finally at the point where I understand it is not about the tools you use to develop, implement and assess  strategy that matters as much as stimulating discussion and asking the right questions.

I will give an overview of a toolkit for dynamic strategy that allows you to bring in different tools in and out of your strategic process to allow you to ask the right questions at different points of the business life-cycle.  The toolkit will encompass strategy planning, development and execution that allows strategy to become fluid and a part of your everyday as circumstances change e.g. as your products reach market maturity, new market opportunities present etc.

For what outcome?  To allow you to be ideas and outcome driven, not tool, framework or template driven.  The ultimate goal is to be able to clearly explain what the organisation is about, what the organisation stands for, where the business is going and everyone’s part and importance in that journey.

Why does strategy need to be dynamic?  

The world does not wait for your annual planning cycle!  Inspiration is more likely to strike when you are not intently thinking about strategy.

Imagine a business like Google, they evaluate data trends and develop businesses to service those potential new trends, markets and customer segments.  Their business model is a platform that adds and removes the various businesses as the external and internal environment opportunities present themselves.  Strategy needs to operate in the same way whereby it becomes engrained as a part of your everyday conversations and allows you to bring in, and take out tools as the environment dictates.  Here is where my toolkit for dynamic strategy will be useful.

I would love to tell you that I have the silver bullet to help you develop strategy and to easily align your organisation to this strategy.  The fact is if you are a start-up, rapidly growing business, mature business etc. your approach will differ, the questions you need to ask will differ and the tools required will differ.

The foundations to develop sound strategy to then bring that strategy to life includes the following fundamental elements that make up the toolkit for dynamic strategy:

  • VISION – find your why, what you stand for and where you are heading?
  • CONNECTION – pattern recognition in the internal and external environment.
  • CHOICE – what are you going to do?  This is your actual strategy.
  • ALIGNMENT – executing your strategy and making it operational.  The how.

While it is prudent to follow a process to develop and execute strategy, as new learning’s come to light, any of these four elements can inform and / or change the other.

Lets investigate each of the four elements of the toolkit for dynamic strategy.

The vision is critical and offers the over-arching guide to simply and easily identify why you are in business?  What you stand for and the legacy you will leave?  What are the desired behaviours that will help you get there?  How will you achieve your goals?

The traditional terms in strategic planning for these questions result in a vision, purpose, mission and values.  Labels here are irrelevant.  What is important is to be able to explain the vision statement quickly and easily to all levels within an organisation.  Here a skeletal approach can be used, whereby you have the bones and parts are filled in over time, such as your mission may move as new opportunities present in new markets that your organisation may not have even contemplated entering at the time of company set-up.

Here the tools are simply to engage widely and have facilitated sessions by a trained facilitator that understands the dynamics of groups.  The wordsmithing is not as important as the intent and fit for the organisation and its employees.

Connection is around finding patterns and connecting the dots.  Here you review the internal and external environment which may impact all of the other three elements including vision, choice and alignment.  Here you need to review what markets and customer segments (a sub-set of a market) you are servicing and / or want to service and review whether the organisation may need to make different choices as part of their strategy.

Traditional tools include marketing and customer analysis, PESTEL, SWOT, Porters Five Forces and Strategic Risks.  CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) have developed a strategy execution tool encompassing a strategic scorecard with four quadrants being strategic position, strategic risk, strategic implementation and strategic options.  I feel this tool is great to stimulate discussion and I use it as both a strategic planning, strategy development and implementation tool.

More modern tools include online trending in data and keyword research, Google analytics and insight tools to understand your current and future market opportunities.  With new business ideas I would be ensuring businesses are testing and trialling small batches and doing the market and customer research before going all in.

Choice is the actual strategy chosen i.e. what are you going to do?  Strategy is simply about making a choice to achieve a specific agreed outcome e.g. to get your current product that is in the domestic market into new international markets.  Here a concise set of choices to clearly articulate direction is paramount.  Ensuring that all levels of the organisation understand the logic of the choices is probably just as important as the actual choices made.  It leads to common understanding, engagement and buy-in.

Tools to develop and keep track of “hot” and “cold” leads and options includes keeping a strategic option archive, option generation tools, feasibility reviews and business case tools to assess choices.

Alignment is ensuring all the activities through-out the organisation align with the choices made.  These activities include the making of products or procuring services, experiences, people, systems, processes and procedures aligning with the choices you have made.  This is where strategy becomes part of your everyday as an organisation.  What is referred to as executing strategy, or making it operational.  This is where the rubber hits the road.

Some tools to help here is departmental planning, activity based mapping, customer journey mapping, program and project management, budgeting and forecasting including reverse P&L reviews, balanced scorecards, testing and trialling small batches of products or new service model.  Continuous improvement methodologies will also over time improve the repeatability of your model and to ensure you are improving as an organisation e.g. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model of most software providers like Microsoft or Apple with their systematic releases of product upgrades and – hopefully – improvements.

Therefore picking the right tools for your business is important to stimulate the right thinking.  However that thinking should be regular and the four elements of the toolkit for dynamic strategy can guide you.

In this multi-part series in future blogs I will deep dive into all four areas of the toolkit for dynamic strategy.

My vision is that your organisation makes strategy a part of your everyday.

You will no longer be process, template, consultant led, but will be led by whatever tool that allows you to have the right discussions and ask the right questions.  A strategy can be on the back of an envelope and be more succesful than the 60 page monstrosity created by some organisations that are never used.

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