There is no shortage of opinions about how strategy “really” works, but make no mistake: good strategy, like leadership, is judged by good results.
Many perspectives on strategy and strategic planning methods are helpful and clear at a certain level, but the more you actually try to apply them to your organization, the more you encounter their conceptual city limits. Like hopping in a car in a busy commercial district, teeming with buildings, parks, traffic lights, and paved roads, you can start driving a particular strategic planning model forward with clarity and confidence, only to find yourself (and your team) a while later on an unmarked dirt road far out in the countryside, with few signposts or landmarks to guide your way from there. When this happens, resourceful leaders will shrug it off, admit “no model is perfect”, and turn to their gut instincts to keep their teams moving forward. This is good leadership instinct—if there’s no clear path forward, leaders make one. But is there a better way?
Even the best bootstrapping leaders would prefer a strategy that could be truly be woven into every level of their organization so it could actually activate and equip their workforce to drive themselves wherever the strategy needed them to go. But how?
“Like hopping in a car in a busy commercial district, teeming with buildings, parks, traffic lights, and paved roads, you can start driving a particular strategic planning model forward with clarity and confidence, only to find yourself (and your team) a while later on an unmarked dirt road far out in the countryside, with few signposts or landmarks to guide your way from there.”
To answer this question here in Part 2 of this reflection on powerful strategy, I will share the sequence of strategy building blocks we use at Edifiers as we work with companies to develop a strong, coherent thread of strategic logic that connects their purpose to their future, and then empowers and mobilizes their organization to win (if you missed it, I defined how I think of “strategy” in Part 1).
Three Layers of Building Blocks
There are three “layers” of building blocks we use to cultivate a powerful strategy: the Business Frame, Strategic Coherence, and the Powerful Delivery. Within each of these are a number of building blocks which should be considered as leaders form and refresh their strategy. Let’s walk through each one.
The first layer of strategic building blocks is your company’s Business Frame, which lays the foundational premises, upon which a good strategy must be constructed. This includes the most elementary information about the organization’s Shared Identity, which consists of rock solid concepts like your mission or purpose statement, the primary activities your organization does, and its core behavioral values and beliefs, which for better or worse, fuel internal behavior and culture and can either help fuel your strategy or undermine it.
The Business Frame also summarizes to-date which Recent Results the organization cares about most, and leads naturally to follow-up questions about how the company creates value for someone in the world and thereby makes money in the form of Business Drivers.
We round out the Business Frame with a dialogue about the organization’s most significant Impediments to greater success, which could be technological, cultural, structural, political, geographic, etc. As a whole, your Business Frame should orient leadership to a clear and sober definition of your organization’s reality today. And upon this solid ground, you can begin to look to the future and form a rational strategy–it will have to be rational to mobilize the organization around it.
The second layer of building blocks is your company’s Strategic Coherence, which is where leadership builds a case for where the organization should go next. Strategic Coherence begins by building a good case for what is the organization’s next big opportunity to win. We simply call this your Next Big Win Rationale. Weighing your current reality, which you outlined in your Business Frame, with market trends and other predictions about the future, you must decide where your organization’s next season of success will be. The rationale behind your Next Big Win can include internal and external factors alike.
From here, leadership should consider whether the organization’s Structure & Governance models, along with its existing capabilities today, will be adequate to achieve the Next Big Win, or if there are systemic impediments that will need to be overcome to equip the organization to achieve success. This step is often either overlooked in strategic planning or not taken far enough.
“Strategic Coherence is where leadership builds a case for where the organization should go next.”
Next, your leadership team should decide on a small handful of Key Objectives & Metrics that the organization will prioritize above all others in order to make fast, focused progress toward the Next Big Win. The most common killer of good strategy is a failure to prioritize a small set of Key Objectives over all the others. The cost of delay that ensues is huge, not just financially, but culturally and relationally in the form of quietly broken trust, as well. The leadership team, and the strategy, must create focus. Leaders should also agree on which outcomes will define success and how progress will be measured consistently. They must also consider and acknowledge what activities the organization should stop doing–pet initiatives don’t produce value, they only undermine the strategy. Lastly, defining your Next Big Win’s measurable outcomes will help your organization actually see what it looks like “on paper”.
All of these future-facing building blocks, along with your Business Frame, should be organized into an accessible strategic narrative we call your Strategic Vision & Plan, which, as you can see, should have much more contextual “meat” on it than a simple vision statement and supporting objectives. It has to be thought through enough to convince smart people in your organization to help you drive toward it.
The third layer of strategic building blocks is your company’s Powerful Delivery, which unfortunately is where the strategic landmarks and signposts usually fade away quickly. Often, big list of strategic action plans and followups are hiked over to various functional teams, each with their own perspectives about the organization, and how to prioritize, execute, and report progress. If leaders skip the Validate & Elaborate building block and fail make the conceptual translation of the Strategic Vision & Plan into terms each group can understand, resonate with, and provide feedback on, then even the best Strategic Vision & Plan will quickly grow malnourished in its infancy and fail to drive the organization forward. This is often why so many of those mission, vision, and value statements on the wall sound like niceties rather than powerful sources of inspiration.
At this point, leadership begins prioritizing its next investments in line with the Strategic Vision & Plan and in such a way as to achieve Prototypes & Playbooks that can be shared with the organization. Early strategic wins can address anything: immediate problems and impediments that came up while reviewing your Business Frame, build trust and predictability within and across teams, or install key technology that overcomes manual delays or accelerates decision-making. The key is to deliver early and deliver consistently. There is more than one way to set this up, but it’s important to build confidence in the Strategic Vision & Plan quickly across the organization by actually finishing what you’ve planned, fast. Cataloging and sharing the organization’s repeatable processes in an accessible set of operational playbooks or wikis create shared awareness across groups, which breaks down invisible silos.
We then encourage leadership to focus on streamlining governance and decision-making across the organization to strengthen Flow & Acceleration. This is where system-level dependencies and impediments that burden teams must be dealt with as part of the overall Strategic Vision & Plan. Streamlining your governance model is essential to untethering and further modularizing each working group to remove external dependencies they have on other teams or decision-makers. The outcome of doing this well is the acceleration of the flow of value through the organization, which drives your profitability in a hundred different ways.
Finally, throughout this process, your leadership will have plenty of opportunities to Reinforce Identity by wrapping its shared culture of purpose, values, and beliefs around the organization’s focused pursuit and achievement of its Strategic Vision & Plan.
Of course, there are a lot more details under this hood, and lots of ways to plug a variety of strategic and operating frameworks into this sequence of strategic building blocks. But I hope this at least helps you get oriented to the big picture of strategy’s proper function and flow within an organization: tying its purpose to its future, and empowering and mobilizing the organization to win.
I see this sequence of strategic building blocks as a leadership team’s primary responsibility, which it must steward in service to their organization. It is impossible to delegate. And like many things, it can grow weeds, need pruning, and occasionally even need to be replanted, but if you stay focused on building strength and coherence into this strategic sequence, your strategy will deliver far better outcomes, deliver them faster, and deliver them more consistently. I hope this summary provides a few additional sign-posts for you as you drive your strategy forward and guide your organization to success.
Joe is the founder of Edifiers Consulting. He has helped companies in cybersecurity, software, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, and others create clarity in their strategy and prepare their teams to win.
We are a management consulting firm based in El Paso, Texas, with a talent network across San Diego, Denver, and Dallas. We specialize in helping leaders build stronger teams and processes that enable and empower people, technology, and data to turn business goals into real results.
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