How To Define (and Refine) Your Strategy
What is your strategy?
Whether we realize it or not, strategy is all around us. Yet few of us can articulate exactly what those strategies are. Or why we chose them – or why they chose us.
So what is a strategy? And how do we know we have a strategy, rather than a goal described in fancy terms?
- It could be the strategy you use for staying in shape.
- It could be a strategy for managing your email.
- It might be the strategy you have to get to work on time.
- Heck, it could be your strategy for your life (I have one of those)
Often, people think they have a strategy, when what they really have is part of a strategy. It might be a grand goal or an impressive list of tactics, but will typically lack all three elements of strategy.
The first element of a strategy is the definition of a desired end state. This is your grand ambition, your strategic objective. It’s what you want to be when you grow up (err, next year).
This is what we call the “Ends”
Now, at first that seems easy. You’re thinking, “perfect, our objective is to grow 25% next year.”
But is that realistic? What makes you believe that is achievable? Is there enough market opportunity to support that? Are your competitors weak? Do you have a plan to exploit their weakness?
Or maybe you are small and the market is big enough that 25% growth is there simply if you execute a good plan?
These questions point out the need to uncover other elements of our strategy.
In thinking about how realistic our goals might be, we should consider what we have at our disposal. What assets, skills or resources do we have that can be leveraged to achieve our objectives? For a client, this could include: an engaged consumer base willing to provide user generated content, a witty customer service team that is engaged in social media, or a collection of authoritative domains.
Put another way, what is our reason to believe that we can do this?
The reason to believe is our “Means”
For personal strategies, this might be will-power or a supportive spouse. For a business it might be a strong brand, a big marketing budget or a strategic relationship.
Whatever the means are, they are our point of leverage. They are resources that we can tap into that enable us to multiply our efforts into something greater.
Now that we’ve identified our Ends and have taken stock of our Means, we need to craft the Ways.
What tactics do we intend to employ? How will we leverage the resources available to us in a way that helps us reach our desired End state?
This part of the strategy is the “Ways”
This is where the rubber hits the road. The Ways is our “to-do” list, our action items or campaigns that we’ve planned to leverage our Means.
My life strategy…
Now that we understand the different elements of a strategy, what does that look like in practice?
At the top of the post, I spoke of the strategy I have for my life. Let’s explore that a little.
I have a few strategic objectives for myself, but the one that is most important to me is to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary. This is my desired end state (though I hope to live long after that!).
The reason I believe we can achieve this: my wife and I have a long, shared history (we met in grade 6), were friends before we dated (we never dated until after college) and have a very similar philosophy about important aspects of life (money, religion, etc). The means for us is the strength and depth of our relationship.
With this strong foundation, there are other things that have to happen for us to celebrate this big milestone. First, I need to live that long. So I need to take care of my health. This means signing up for sufficiently scary athletic events (eg. triathlons) so that I get out of bed and train every day. Second (actually, probably first), I need to continue to nurture my relationship so that, well, we stay married. Each of these are tactics that describe the ways that I plan to achieve my strategic objective.
Why Strategy Matters
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Having strategies help focus our efforts on things that matter. They help us cut through the noise and the distractions so that we can spend our time on items that move us closer to our goals. Without strategies we may wander aimlessly, struggle mightily to no avail or leave our chances to luck.
Strategies show us the way.