Is your business in a rut? It happens to all of us. Perhaps your team isn’t pulling together. You aren’t enjoying your work or excited about the future of your organization. Maybe your team is having trouble making decisions, so you’re pulled in too many directions at once. No matter which rut your business is stuck in, strategy is the fastest way out. Here’s why.
Are you looking for a quick win or for long-term results? When you don’t have confidence in your organization’s direction and ability to achieve big goals, you’re usually focused on the quick win.
Quick wins have their place. They feel good; they can give you that dopamine shot you need to keep going and feel like you’re accomplishing something. But going for the quick win is a reactive, not strategic, approach. If all you’re doing is chasing quick wins, you’re likely to never get where you want to go.
In a way, strategy gives you the vision to see where you’re going. You’ll still make missteps, but it’s the difference between trying to get through a forest with your eyes closed and trying to do so with your eyes open. With strategy to guide you, you can ask the right questions about that forest, adjust to what you learn, and pivot to get out of the woods faster.
Often, the way a business moves forward is conceived in a vacuum. Leadership develops a plan and assumes everyone else will buy into it. But there will be far less forward momentum if the whole team doesn’t buy in to the strategy.
Strategy offers a clear story behind which people can align so that there’s buy-in, passion, and momentum behind their actions. Enlisting multiple people to work in the same direction, for the same reason, builds momentum and creates efficiency. It’s very hard to do that without strategy.
Sure, you can generate momentum in short bursts by using a target or goal to spur the team forward. But to really get people on board for the long haul, you need a strategy. Why? Because when things change—and they will change—you have to explain why the team now needs to re-focus that same passion and energy in another direction. Without strategy, that conversation is very tricky, and a leader can lose trust rapidly. (“I hit my targets, so why is the company’s performance still suffering?”)
Strategy is the storyline that helps people understand the big picture. It gives the group the flexibility to adjust as things change and allows them to make those shifts authentically, instead of having change forced on them.
Telling the story well is part of generating buy-in and passion, but only if you built that story the right way in the first place. If strategy is built in a back room, if the team doesn’t participate, and if there’s no conversation to help people grab hold of the ideas, it tells people you don’t need them to move the company forward—you just need them to do what they’re told.
Leaders often fear that if they aren’t setting the course themselves, they aren’t leading. And there’s an assumption that a leader gets zero input from anyone in shaping strategy. But good strategy is always based on a perspective of how the world looks both inside and outside the organization. The best leaders develop strategy based on multiple perspectives by getting feedback from senior leaders and others in the business.
Strategy is an opportunity to show an executive who may never have used it this way how safe it can be to open up this conversation to the whole organization. It’s a way to learn and to anticipate changes within the business that you couldn’t see before. It gives you fresh perspectives because you’re bringing in people you failed to previously utilize well, you’re asking new questions, and you’re giving them new things to consider about the business. This activity is the mark of a learning organization that helps retain your best people.
Whether an investment is “good” or “bad” is always relative to your strategy. An investment that was good back when you thought X was true becomes a bad investment once you learn X is false.
By showing you where it’s important to invest and where it’s not, strategy can highlight bad investments, giving you impetus to escape the sunk cost fallacy. No matter how much money you’ve already put into a certain initiative, strategy can show you it’s not worth investing another dollar. Getting out of a money pit like that can be a very difficult, even company-breaking, conversation without the story that strategy provides.
Strategy also highlights the best investments you can make, and forces you to ask, “Where will we get the money for them?” That compels you to look at each investment, measure it against the strategy, and decide if it’s worthwhile.
Urgency is important—but it’s also important that urgency be high-purpose. Otherwise, you’re just putting out fires.
Strategic planning pulls strategy down to the operational level, so that even when you’re making decisions in the weeds, those decisions are guided by a strategic imperative. Now when there’s a fire, you have a way of judging how important that fire is.
It takes time to do strategic planning, especially if you’ve changed your strategy and made a big pivot. But it’s really important to help the whole organization understand the implications of the strategy down to their jobs. If you’ve built a strategy and haven’t done strategic planning, you have no hope of changing your performance reviews to show how the strategy is relevant for each person that you’re managing. Strategic planning helps everyone, from executives to the front lines, stay high-purpose in their urgency.
When your organization is stuck in a rut, taking the time to focus on strategy can feel like the longest way out. But aligning your team behind a powerful story is the fastest way to get your business out of the mire and back on track.