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September 26, 2016
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The S Word

September 26, 2016

As modern businesses go (changing at the speed of light, responding to the pace of innovation), it's easy to slip into drinking-from-a-firehose mode – a constant reactive state, putting out fires, churning out tactical work without stopping to think about the bigger picture.

This approach might lead to getting stuff done or achieving decent results now and again, but forgoing intentional planning often comes with blind spots, wasted resources and missed opportunities. On the extreme end, it could jeopardize business or lead to team burnout. If this sounds familiar, it's time to get serious about strategy.

Ask around, and you'll get many different opinions about what a good strategy looks like. I've seen all kinds of strategic documents, including weighty tomes full of detail and supporting research, and sparse one-pagers with just the basics. I've seen high-level visions that present the bigger picture, and others that focus almost exclusively on tactics and read more like to-do lists. I've always wondered if this range of ideas on what goes into a good strategy drives a lot of the uncertainty. I've noticed people struggle with the language. Is this an objective? A goal? A strategy?

Let's forget about the semantics for a moment and focus on setting a good foundation. Before you write your strategy, explore these three things:

What are you doing now?
Chances are, you've already made some big decisions about your products or services. Your current "strategy" may not be stated, but you're doing something. A great place to start is to take account of what you're already doing.

What are the things you've specifically decided NOT to do?
You may have already decided against certain things, like not to expand geographically or compete on price. These things also can be unspoken. Clearly defining and embracing what you are not can help your team rally around what you are, and ultimately make positioning your brand easier. 

What's working, what's not working, and what's missing?
These three simple questions help dig into a pretty comprehensive overview of what's happening throughout your organization. It's good to include your whole company or representatives from all departments in this type of conversation. We facilitate this exercise often with clients, and it always leads to a-ha moments and great conversation. 

Strategy doesn't need to be intimidating. If it's something you've put off, hopefully these questions will serve as a starting point. From there, you can conduct research, actually write the plan, and engage your team in bringing the strategy to life. It might seem tough at first, but I've always found that getting out of fire-fighting mode frees up time for strategic thinking. 

What strategic questions or frameworks have worked for you?

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