Whether you’re running the organisation in management, in HR or training, having a coherent plan for winning is essential. “Strategy can be seen as mystical and mysterious. It isn’t. It is easily defined.” (Lafley and Martin, Playing to Win, 2013). The Economist tipped me off to this book and it is probably one of the best on strategy I’ve come across. Why? Because it is highly practicable and it gets straight to the point. What’s the point? Strategy, the authors state, is simply a series of choices. If you are not crystal clear about the choices you are making, you’re much more likely to end up in trouble.
The choices are broken down into stages:
- What is your winning aspiration?
- Where will you play?
- How will you win?
- What capabilities must be in place?
- What management systems are required?
OK, all very straightforward so far. It gets a little more complicated when you ask a question that I really love (I got this from the book) – for this to work, what needs to be true? This really tests your choices at each stage and it stretches the imagination. Phrased this way the question also encourages you to be positive and constructive. The choices are equally as valid whether you are strategising for a large organisation, a unit or division or at departmental or even an individual level.
Having applied this approach with two clients looking to grow their businesses and on my own business interests, the central questions throw up really tough decisions and choices. For example, why do we only cover a certain geography?, which customer segments are most profitable?, why should customers choose us over our competitors?
There are, inevitably, good and bad choices. What makes the difference between the two? Well, hard factual evidence can make a real difference. We can all fall into the trap of believing what we believe. Asking, what needs to be true invites us to closely examine our underlying assumptions and premises. If they’re faulty, exposing them to the harsh light of day and robust discussion often makes it clear whether the choice is a good one or one of questionable merit.
I’ve found that when clients become conscious of the choices they are making, either implicitly or explicitly, they become much better judges of their own plans. We’ve all heard about the law of unintended consequences. Well, becoming aware of your strategic choices and their likely impact significantly reduces your risk of failure. Ultimately, investing the time in testing your strategies out is going to save you time, money and embarrassment!
Try subjecting your strategy to the five questions. How does it stack up?