When I was at uni, I meant to give my mum a call every week. I loved her, I knew she loved me, it was my first time away from home for a long time, so it was obviously the thing to do, and I knew it.
Except that I didn’t call her anywhere near once a week.
But hey, it’s the thought that counts.
Except that “it’s the thought that counts” is a copout. I meant to stay in touch with all kinds of people who I’ve now completely lost touch with. Thinking I would hasn’t helped a jot.
What does that have to do with strategy? A lot.
Because most SMEs I’ve seen or worked with have come up with a lot of thoughts for their strategies. Quite often, those thoughts have turned into PowerPoints. And occasionally even spreadsheets.
But even PowerPoints don’t count. Spreadsheets don’t count. Even your strategy awaydays don’t count. None of those makes strategy happen.
A plan and action is what makes them count. An above average strategy with consistent execution trumps a genius strategy with sporadic activity. Every. single. time.
At best, most SMEs do lurch into a frenzy of activity when someone remembers, or when there’s enthusiasm, or for a while until the next thing. Which is why most fail to escape the hustle as the sole way of working.
So how do we escape “the thought” that doesn’t count?
Decisions -> Clarity -> Plan -> Action
I see companies failing at each stage.
First, decisions. That means after the spectacular animations on your slide show, or the really ugly spreadsheet table you’ve copied and pasted into your slide deck, you need to decide what to actually do.
Your strategy isn’t “we’re going to focus on marketing”. It’s a start, but it doesn’t give me anything to work with. It may be “we’re going to implement a LinkedIn-based outbound campaign”, or (heaven forbid) “we’re going to redo our website (again)” or “we’re going to run one webinar a week to CMOs in our target market”. I know what to do with that.
If there are other things clamouring for your attention, capture them. Put them on a “Future strategic objectives” list so you can quiet your mind that they’ve been captured. Then make sure no one touches them, because they WILL stop you from achieving the things you’ve actually decided to do.
We also can’t have your team leaving the expensive strategy awayday with 5 different views of what they think needs to happen. Our decisions need to have whatever it takes to give them clarity. For instance, they could be even clearer with goals attached – “2 new client conversations per week”, “100 new site visits per day”, “A sales call with one new CMO per week”. All of this is goodness – it’s a decision. And one that’s developed to clarity.
If anyone in the meeting says something that muddies it a little, don’t let it pass – have the conversation immediately to ensure you have clarity and alignment. One person’s lack of clarity sows doubt in everyone’s mind. Talk about it straight away until you get back to a clear and aligned decision.
Your first action coming out of a strategic decision is to create a plan to make it happen. I find a lot of SME strategies, if they’ve made it past the decision and clarity phase, then stall because there’s no plan.
You know S.M.A.R.T. I don’t think all goals or objectives can actually be SMART, but it does absolutely apply to a strategic plan. Make sure the plan is specific – at a task level, there should be no room for doubt. Be realistic – there’s no point planning on a major campaign in September if your whole marketing team’s off on holidays in August. Get realistic and plan the launch when you know they’ll be able to do it. Make sure it has owners who get stuff done. Make sure the plan has timescales. All your usual project management stuff applies here – it’s how you take something aspirational and turn it into tangible action.
Then ensure people create the time to execute. Timeblock in their calendars. If they just vaguely intend to get it done around the day-job, it won’t happen. It needs explicit time carved out. Then create a forum for tracking the plan and having the team hold each other accountable for it. I’m a huge fan of regularly-scheduled sprints. It sets an expectation, and critically, it creates momentum.
As action happens, be open to replanning. You’ll learn new things. Sometimes, you need to go away and find things out before you actually put a plan together. Other time, life happens – a client project needs all hands on deck. The biggest pitch you’ve ever had comes up. That’s all fine and good, and needs to be responded to. Just don’t lose the plan – adjust it.
If you’ve worked with me, then you’ll know the Build on Purpose approach for doing this, and for bringing intentionality into how we execute strategy. A big part of why it works is that we also spend time on making sure the day-to-day gets looked after. If the leadership team is always being called in to rescue projects, or for every opportunity that comes up, it won’t be able to execute on a strategy. So do the less exciting work of getting your ops shipshape – sales, deliver, finance.
Strategies are important. But we sometimes get so seduced by creating them that we forget that they only have value when they’re executed.
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- Join us on a workshop on how to scale your company; create time to focus on the bigger picture; and keep values and purpose core to your company. For max 5 CEOs of companies with revenues between £1.5m and £15m.
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