In two recent posts I’ve written about why engaging and empathizing with customers is both essential to making better decisions as well as to make more effective and meaningful products and services. In this post I want to briefly talk about how this should tie into your overall strategy.
Strategy as a fixed game
The approach many of us are familiar with is really like approaching strategy in a fixed environment. This environment is one where all the factors concerning competitors, market size, risks, growth rates, etc. are “known” and predictable. So, the exercise becomes one where best case, worst case, and conservative cases are assembled on spreadsheets, some commentary is provided based on existing feelings, projections are outlined over 5 years, and the document is printed, approved, and placed on a shelf never to be seen again.
Perhaps I’m being harsh – maybe the document is pulled out from time to time from concerned shareholders asking why the projections aren’t being met. Perhaps it’s used as a reference point to copy and paste market assessments, mission statements, and the like in case people have forgotten.
Realistically, the performance of the organization in this type of strategy review is predicted to generally follow overall market trends and what has occurred in the past. Unless, of course, the organization is deemed to be in trouble. In this case there’s usually a new executive team that takes a different perspective on the market opportunities, but they require marketing/advertising dollars to increase market penetration and new products with which to woo customers.
Strategy, in this context, is something that occurs separate from the rest of the organization and its intended customers. My point is that this approach is not one that translates throughout the organization, nor is it one that provides grounding in reality. At best what it does is serve as a compliance item for board of directors. At its core, however, it is make-work for executives, takes up a lot of energy, and serves as a piece of creative writing that – although compelling and grammatically correct – is fully disconnected from customers and front-line staff.
People still crave a strategy, despite the limitations in the traditional approach. What I propose is a more living, breathing approach to strategy where the work people do every day not only helps execute on the strategy, but also shapes and defines it.
How does this look? It looks like scrapping the printed and bounded strategy book, and placing strategies on white boards where teams review and test assumptions within it every day. It looks like debating and arguing over different paths to take. These debates could create new products and services, rather than choosing one path over another.
It means, at its core, creating the space for your customers to directly connect to your strategy at every moment, and understand where you are going. Forget competitors, forget the market trends – focus on who you want to serve and their trends. Anticipating their needs is one thing, quickly creating solutions that match these needs is quite another. It’s the latter that wins. Creating an organization that can quickly adapt both it’s business strategy and it’s product/service strategy is the goal to “strategy”. Everything else is typing.
Part of a running series of rants,