Having worked for both large corporate companies and small 10 man teams, the idea of strategy is one that is very often thought of but not practiced. People love to talk about strategy and what they should be doing over a given period. Very often however the process of getting this strategy down on paper is extremely flawed.
How many times have you seen a company strategy document that is centered around a financial goal?
“Our strategy is to be netting £20 million in 3 years”
That kind of thing. I have heard this too many times to remember and find myself asking the same question every time…Ok, how?
Anyone can put a document together that shows an upward curve of revenue and say that’s a strategy. People love to take what they are doing now, times it by 10, say lets go for that and then bully people to achieve it. I have news for you people, that’s not a strategy, it’s not even a goal. It’s a dream
I imagine we have all done it at some point or another, I know I have in my early management career. At the time I couldn’t understand why we were so far off target. I mean, I had a strategy for god sake! Well, my interpretation of a strategy as a 22 year old, wet behind the ears sales manager with bugger all experience and a fancy for my senior admin.
As I went from store to store, I slowly realized the conversations going on around me. “What help are we getting?” and “How the bloody hell are we going to get to that number?”
Its easy to look at the people asking these questions as negative, unruly, defiant. We look at the 20% of our team that do what we need no matter what and measure everyone against them.
“Well if they can do it with no support, why cant you?”
The penny was very slowly dropping and I found myself doing that extremely rare thing that we all say we do but actually don’t…I was listening. Well it was more like hearing but still it was a start! I was actually speaking to my team about how they felt, what their challenges were and how they were going to overcome them.
I started to really understand that these people had a voice, a bloody good one in fact and that to my complete surprise…
I DIDN’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!
This was amazing, my team now felt they could express an idea, a concern or an opinion. They felt empowered to make decisions and our strategies started to take a slightly more detailed form. We were brainstorming, overcoming hurdles and most importantly with any team, singing from the same hymn sheet.
It became apparent that we had been simply goal setting, and top level goal setting at that. This is fine when you are talking about aspirations and where you would love to be in a few years but does it work as a working document to inspire? Does it hell!
People need a detailed description of the steps involved, the tools to achieve those steps and the WHY we are doing them. Your team wont buy into things they either don’t understand or don’t think is needed so explaining WHY is as important as anything else.
Once you have outlined your WHY, you can start breaking out your top level goal of ‘Make £5 million Profit in 2 years’ into smaller, more specific goals. For example…
Increase our customer service score from 3 to 5 by end of Q3
Establish our top 5 strengths and weaknesses
These 2 are still very top level and need much more ‘Meat on the Bone’ however we have a starting point to begin breaking down the ‘HOW’. You will also notice that neither of these 2 goals are revenue focused. They don’t need to be, we have our revenue target and now its about the INPUT that gets us there. From these second layer goals, come objectives slightly more relevant to the members in your team, such as…
Ensure ALL inbound emails are answered in an agreed time frame and state this on the website by end of current period
Collate the last 6 months KPI reports and highlight 5 positive trends plus 5 areas for improvement by end of week 3
Both of these are measurable and and time bound. They would also been allocated to a specific team member and signed off once complete. The trick with the first objective is consistency and that falls in the lap of the manager. Setting up reminders as part of your strategy is as important as setting it in the first place. A great strategy is only as good as its execution and that only happens if people form a habit.
We all have habits, and very often they are classed as bad ones. Smoking, tapping the table, always on our mobile phone, interrupting people, picking our nose etc etc. These are things we have done without thinking for years and trying to break them comes with one almighty effort. The only reason these things are a habit is because we have done them over and over again for a long period of time without exception.
Forcing a habit is much harder. It’s very often something you find a little tedious and would look for any opportunity to break or miss a day/week. For example, we knew at C7 we had to focus our energies on the AU and US markets so an AU focus group was set up to meet once a week for no more than one hour. Some weeks we really struggled to fit this in but I insisted we did it to create the habit. Even if you see no immediate value, you must commit to that action each time without fail and eventually you will see why.
You have all heard the term,
“Throw loads of shit at the wall and see what sticks”
This is often the case when a strategy is either not clearly defined or not even there to start with. We do this when getting to that number each month is more important than anything else and we hit the reset button on the 1st to go again.
Problem with this comes when you try and grow your business as you never allocate enough time to plan. Without time and planning, your colleagues and your customers, who ever they may be get frustrated and loose faith in you as an organisation. This means you are forever replacing them with new ones rather than building a foundation to grow from. No strategy equals no sustainable growth.
Sure you can have success without a strategy but it will always be short lived and more than likely at the cost of your customers and colleagues. You have all seen those shops in the high streets that go up and down again in the space of 6 months. This is purely due to a lack of planning and a poorly laid out strategy from people that have a good idea but no concept of how to execute it.
Your business is destined to fail without a detailed strategy that is rigid enough to combat setbacks but agile enough to change with the market.
Your team MUST know what is expected of them everyday and more importantly, understand WHY you are asking these things of them. Strategy must involve everyone and come from everyone.
The leader cannot simply decide on a plan and expect everyone to follow, they must be involved and have their say. He or she must drive that plan from the front, everyday without exception, otherwise the habit you have worked hard to create, breaks down very, very quickly.
STRATEGY IS EVERYTHING – MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ONE!