Often there is much activity within a business that results in no forward movement; in fact, it takes the business backwards. Activity described as strategy is futile without the presence of a coherent objective. Vague statements of growth, new markets and improved profit are no substitute for a succinct vision of what is being pursued and created through strategy. In today’s challenging and uncertain markets, strategy is more critical than ever.
Active Knowledge Question:
Is your strategy pinpointed on a compelling outcome, one which everyone in your business understands and buys into?
Strategy Starts With Imagination
Seeking to set a strategy without a clear and compelling objective is equivalent to a dog chasing its tail in endless circles – lots of activity and not much success.
Strategy is often built out of history with some regard to where a business is considered to presently exist. In other words, strategy can easily become a continuation of the past.
The danger of course in continuing the past is that everything else around the business – customer need, technology, competitors – changes but the business quite happily continues on as it always has until it fails. To compete effectively requires that you always build upon the past so that you may compound on successes and failures, and waste nothing, but you should never allow yourself to be tied to your past.
And this is where imagination becomes so important in creating the summit, the objective, for your current strategy. It’s is not just being able to see the future and where your business fits into that future but imagining a future that your business creates and leads.
Stepping out of the purpose, focusing on the evolving customer needs, thinking about emerging technologies and where all of this may lead to. And allowing your passion for the business you are in to take over and paint a picture of the world you would want to create.
Building an image of what may seem impossible to everyone else and then working out how to make that possible. This represents the seeding of strategy that builds great businesses.
But It Must Be Real
Many leaders may struggle with the concept of imagination as the seed for strategy but pause for a moment and reflect on the great business that have existed over the last 100 year, even just the last 20 years. And you will recognise that they have all been created in markets and services that didn’t exist when those businesses were first formed. Their founders had an idea of what could make for a great business and invested themselves in making that idea real. They imagined what could be and made it be.
Many of these businesses have declined or failed over subsequent years, but typically this occurs when the imagination and passion of the founder have left the business, and it is now run by managers who seek to continue to the pass and build on those successes.
Of course, there are also many who imagined but could not bring their dreams to reality, but that is no reason not to free yourself to think of what could be, of what you wished would be. It is better to imagine a future in which your business excelled rather than lead a business which is reactionary always chasing competitors and following their leads.
Imagination can be anchored in realism through the purpose for which your business was formed and hopefully still continues. A properly identified purpose is always expressed in the form of the value that you seek to provide to your customers. Yes, it is the need that you seek to fulfil but expressed in a way that reflects value.
A simple example I often use is the ballpoint pen, imagine that your business owned the IP for this product. You could say your purpose is to ‘manufacture a quality ballpoint pen at a fair value and distribute it around the world’. In this instance, your focus would be on production and distribution. But what about if you were to say your purpose was ‘to enable people to communicate more effectively, to capture their ideas and express their thoughts’. Which of these two purposes do you think would allow leadership to imagine a future full of new opportunities and markets, and set a path of continuous growth for their business?
A well-crafted purpose creates a window through which endless opportunities for growth may be discovered; it becomes a portal for your imagination to flourish.
Strategy Is Only Ever Emergent
You can make the best-laid plans, but you can be guaranteed that things will not proceed as you expected and what you thought and intended to happen will need to adapt; adapt to changing conditions, new discovered realities and opportunities that you have only just realised.
Integration of emergence into your strategic thinking and plans is critical to enduring success, and this basically takes the form of allowing the team at the coal face to adapt and change the intended strategy as they believe necessary.
Command and control requiring that strategy to be executed as formulated typically leads to lost opportunities and failed projects. A better approach is complete openness to change and robust discussions throughout the business as to what has been discovered and how to respond. This shifts responsibility, and authority, for success down to the team delivering the strategy and creates channels for open accountability.
Expressing your strategy as a clear objective creates permission for the team to orienteer their way to that objective but also to pause and reset the objective if the original intent has become unachievable or a better alternative discovered.
Your strategic objective, expressed as a succinct vision of the future you are seeking to create, is the most powerful image that you can set as an objective and allows it to become a quest that the entire business can commit themselves to.
Strategy Needs The Engine
Freeing your imagination allows you to craft an image of the future that you can set as the strategic objective of your business. It is a compelling image, a reality that is challenging and one which excites and draws everyone into its quest. For some, this approach may seem beyond challenging and unrealistic, but it reflects the makings of a great business.
And strategy requires the workings of the competitive engine within your business to be activated, energised, focused and bring all the talent and effort that exists in your business to the forefront. Never forget that the core competitive strength of your business is the combined talent and effort of everyone who works within and with your business. And your role as a leader in setting strategy is to muster that talent and energy.
Your competitive engine is that integration of all the agents that will support you in mustering the strength of your competitive engine. A core strategy is always to build the strength of your competitive engine as this is the ‘mechanism’ through which you will be able to achieve and deliver on your wildest imagination reflected in a strategic objective.
If you are not familiar with the workings of your competitive engine here is a brief summary of the key agents within that engine and their role in performance:
- Leadership is from the centre. It rests in character, which regulates motive. Humility and gratitude are the foundation stones. They allow the greatest potential of the business to be realised.
- Purpose forms the cornerstone of your business’s future. It is founded in customer need and provides an enduring window for future growth and opportunities. It goes hand in hand with motive, which must be to compete, not profiteer.
- Your business is everyone working within and with it and the relationships which exist. Competitiveness requires trust and engagement. Engage human potential through:
- Our vision– Our quest. A journey I must be part of. It is our future and that of our customers in the making.
- Culture is who your business is. Culture is crafted to make your business whom it needs to be to succeed.
- Everything orientates itself to customer needs and delivering the greatest value possible. For today and tomorrow.
- Capability is what is required to deliver customer value. A value that will outcompete all others. A capability that must always be compounding and evolving.
- Your competitive posture is how you intend to compete. It allows you to deliver more customer value than anyone else. It focuses on the ability to compete and helping you become whom you need to be to win.
- Create a clear unrestricted pathway to success. Build the attributes that support achievement, growth, and competitiveness. Remove all barriers that block potential.
- Rewards are the fuel. They feed energy, commitment, contribution – at all levels – to purpose. They must be equally available to all for their efforts and uplift the good and block the bad.
Strategy is an art and not a science, its rest in human potential and being able to ignite imagination and passion firstly within yourself and then throughout every individual engaged with the business. But strategy always requires a clear, compelling image of the future that you are committed to create.
An entirely new level of performance.
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All the best in the success of your business,