Why is “strategy” a dirty word?

I’ve often had clients and prospects say “We don’t need strategy. We just need this, this, this, and this…” as they count off on their fingers all the strategic things they are struggling with.

Strategic planning is obviously vital to building firm foundations, and growing and scaling a successful, profitable, sustainable business.

So, why is “strategy” a dirty word? Why do company leaders resist engaging experts to guide their strategic direction?

One reason is almost certainly pride.

As founders, principles, and leaders, it’s hard for us to acknowledge and admit that, while we might have a strong vision for where we are going, we probably don’t have a clear plan for how we’re going to get there. And, even if we do, it’s likely incomplete or we’re so close, we lack the external perspective to see beyond the “golden path” of anticipated success.

Good, strategic direction requires humility and teamwork—to untangle the knotty issues and to bring independent ideas to the table.

Another issue is that “strategy” work often leads to comprehensive, over-designed, fluffy, expensive documents that barely get read and rarely get fully implemented—being relegated to the proverbial shelf where they’re left to gather dust.

Developing a strategy is the first step of strategic planning. What really matters is implementing that strategy.

The key to strategic work is ensuring it’s actionable, and that the outcomes take into consideration the capabilities, capacity, headspace, and bandwidth of the team(s) who will be responsible for executing it.

In many cases, strategic work becomes more about the document outlining the findings than it is about the goals and objectives—and the steps and processes required to take action.

“Strategy” on its own is more or less useless. Actionable, executable strategic guidance, on the other hand, is essential.

Strategic work needs to be less about the documentation—that already-overwhelmed leadership teams have little chance of digesting or implementing—and more about providing an overarching direction to guide things forward.

For small teams with limited resources, it’s more important to identify and make incremental, shorter-term improvements—with a relentless longer-term focus on the “big, hairy, audacious goals”.

Low-hanging fruit and easy wins have a tendency to snowball into significant, meaningful, foundational improvements.

But, in order to tackle the smaller initiatives that will lead to impactful change, one needs to be careful not to get stuck in the minutiae—which requires good, clear strategic direction.

So, “strategy” on its own might be a dirty word; strategy with an actionable plan is gold.

If you’re struggling to gain perspective and prioritize and keep track of all the moving parts in your business—and you’re lacking clarity around your strategic direction—I might be able to help.

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