In the early days of my courses on strategy, the curriculum focuses on strategic planning basics. I have developed 12 characteristics of a strategic plan because strategy is a framework for answers, not an answer. It is a definition of approach. The move from strategy to action planning requires translation into tactics and shorter timeframes. Strategy creates the context to inform action. If an activity falls outside of the strategic context, its validity must be questioned.
Strategies look forward. A strategy full of what to do and descriptions of what a business does leaves little room for failure or aspiration. What happens when the list of things is done but the future still lies ahead? A good strategy doesn’t stop with completed tasks. A good strategy creates a framework for the ongoing emergence of new work that builds directionally upon what has come before—perhaps expanding into new pathways that resonate with the current ones—or purposefully diverge—depending on strategic desire.
No person, and no firm, proves as competent as it thinks it is. A constant inward challenge should derive from the conscience of a strategy that harps away at the edges of arrogance or blind execution, gnawing at the edges asking: What next? What can be better? What do we still need to do to become what we want to become? What do we need to stay good at? What can we abandon? How do we surprise ourselves?
12 Characteristics of Strategy: Is and Is Not
- Defines what types of practices a firm need’s to be good at, not a list of the current competencies and practices.
- Points to where execution needs to excel. Does not detail how to execute.
- Describes the path toward aspirations, along with the aspirations. It answers the why and what, not the how.
- Acts as a dynamic guide to reaching a vision, not as a static home for a paragraph about the vision.
- Captures a set of intentions that enable agility, not a prescription for it.
- Documents a set of flexible guidelines for navigating through the future as it unfolds, not a declarative set of assumptions about the future.
- Creates the permissions required to unleash innovation, not the cookbook for the next product or service.
- Offers a framework for technology as a transformative enabler, not a technology plan.
- Crafts a framework for making decisions about what skills and talent are needed to succeed, not a formula for growth or downsizing.
- Builds a structure for evaluating structure, not a bible for restructuring.
- Hosts a strategic dialog about what the firm’s capabilities need to be, not a list of mergers or acquisitions.
- Informs choices about the value and alliances made with partners, not a list value propositions and go-to-market directives.
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