“Vision without action is nothing, action without vision is disaster.” -Unknown
[In quote: Replace vision with purpose to modernize it.]
To achieve the future framed in the purpose statement of the company, business needs to have a strategy. The action plan of the businesses, strategy is only a cooler way to call it, is defined in plenty of different ways. In its simplest form strategy is a choice what to do and what not to do.
In large corporations strategy is often misunderstood. CEOs describe the targeted future by numbers. “We want to grow 10 per cent per year and have 75 000 employees by year 2020.” That’s not strategy.
Similar statement about strategy from a 18-year-old young woman would be a desire to have three children. How do you get those three children? What are the key steps in between to be able to support and take care of the dream family?
Poor strategists get disposed of
Good example of a poorly articulated corporate strategy I can find very close to me. Recently I was reading a new number of a staff magazine of my employer. The main story of the magazine was covering the launch of new company strategy, carrying a slogan “Now we execute!”.
The strategy was aiming toward 12 % annual growth resulting in the ultimate goal of close to exponential growth in the number of personnel and revenue. The immediate question from me was: “Okay, mister Group President, what would you like me to execute?”. No decisions on what to do or what not to do had been made.
The very same awarded leader was let go about a year after publication of the strategy. Only thing of the strategy that was executed, was the owner of it.
Does your actions meet your key challenge?
In a recent and appraised strategy book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt defines strategy as a coherent set of actions to address the key challenge of the organisation. Please note the word action in plural and challenge in singular. Rumelt highlights the common misunderstanding about strategy: it’s easy to define strategy broadly.
Good excuse might be the goal of not limiting the different growth paths of the company. But broad and dull strategy is bad strategy. Members of the organisation have hard time finding direction and guidance for their decisions. Articulating a bad strategy is an easy mistake to be made. Articulating a coherent and clear strategy is painstakingly hard task.
Rumelt’s book truly helped me to crystallize the true challenge of the business unit I was in charge of. Before it was more or less unclear and undefined. According to several employees, we were having many great initiatives but often they could not see the the connection and destination.
In our business unit the greatest problem was to overcome the challenge of “managing all routes to market”. If that sounds dull, it was figured out by me, not by a consultant. And it took a great effort to make it explicit. When I compared this statement to the challenges of the two other business units, they were clearly very different.
After crystallizing our key challenge I pursued to adjust all our major actions to either solve or ease the challenge. When I got a authorization of hiring two new people and strong recommendation how to place new resources, I presented an opposing plan contradicting the plan of my boss’ boss. My plan applied to our key challenge but at the same time fulfilled the intention behind the new recruitments.
Action planning is not supposed to be easy
Challenges are plenty in relationships as in businesses. To get a functioning strategy and people behind it you need to make choice about which challenge to address. It means analyzing and summing things up. Neither businesses nor couples can solve many challenges at a time.
That’s where strategy meets the challenge. Only after you have your key challenge – in singular – figured out one can develop a strategy to meet all the sub-problems. At the same time you reach certain focus in your business or relationship. Naturally the challenges change over time and strategy has to be adjusted.
Strategy, focus and allocation of resources walk hand in hand. Clayton Christensen brings up the issue with time allocation in families. In his book How to measure your life Christensen pursues to reflect how you divide your time between your career and children. He points out that you don’t focus or prioritize – deploy your strategy – until one utilizes resources accordingly.
Important is to have correct metrics in place too. If you think by taking your son to a soccer training twice per week is focus, that’s fine. With family and work filling your days, remember to prioritize your time inside and outside of the workplace. Finally: To succeed with new initiatives at work, it’s critical to address attention verbally and by allocating resources. Metrics will guide the action towards the desired direction.
Our greatest challenge
At the moment the greatest challenge of our relationship is to figure out where to live. Fortunately we have an apartment. Unfortunately the challenge does not mean we would be wanting to move to a different apartment or city. That would be too easy.
We don’t know in which country we would build our relationship. Yes, I know it’s quite fundamental. We are two different nationalities and we have both been living and working in the home countries of both parties. We are in the process of finding a compromise where to live for long term. What do we need?
To succeed you need both: dreamer and doer
Business theory and practice proves us that both of the partners do not need to be the most active in formulation of the strategy. Some time ago I visited a mid sized company. From the entrance everybody coming to the building needed to take stairs up to the second floor.
On top of the stairs two corridors departed. One to the left and one to the right. To the left pointed an arrow with a text “Seers” and to the right a similar sign “Doers”. Level and quality of humor reveals the true nature of company culture and relationships.
In corporations strategies are often set in the top management and among board of directors. That’s known as top-down model which is widely used because of its simplicity and swiftness.
Business theory also talks about down-top model. Its greatest benefit is the greater commitment of employees, when they are more involved in the strategy process. But has anyone seen a true down-top model in practice?
Personally I have only read about it in business books. Input from middle managers or directors is harvested in seminars and workshops. The bigger the organization is the further these people are from the front line. That’s where the strategy easily becomes middle-top conversation.
Due to their nature relationships fortunately do not have this shortcoming.
Simon Sinek highlights that most successful companies have had the visionary entrepreneur who has envisioned the idea and purpose of the company. Next to the “Seer” is always needed a “Doer” to realize the dream. In relationships one needs to understand his or her strongest part in the equation and not to forget contributing to the other one.
Usually, I’m not saying always, women tend to be the visionaries. Once I found myself observing my spouse scrolling listings of apartments for sale and soon finding her dream kitchen. Seeing her enthusiasm about the apartment I realized that I need to get to work to afford a place with an ultra modern kitchen like that.
Dreaming and doing – both of them are key to long-term prosperity.