Key to any successful business, organization or initiative is a real strategy. According to Vermeulen, “A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do”. Many strategies are not successful because they are not a real strategy. These strategies that fail are just goals that do not direct what to do; instead they merely state what they hope to accomplish (goal). So what makes up a strategy? And more importantly, what makes a strategy successful?
First, employees need to know the “why” or purpose of the choice. Simply pulling all employees together and communicating the new strategy will not impact behavior or effect change. Defining and sharing the strategy is only the first step. If employees understand the reasoning behind the strategy, they are more inclined to buy-in and put the strategy into practice. For example, a physician’s goal for a patient is better health and the strategy is daily exercise and decreasing daily intake of calories. A patient will most likely be more compliant with the strategic plan if they understand the purpose for better health is being able to be more active with young grandchildren.
Strategy cannot be defined and set by top leaders and sent one way down. Top leadership should set the strategic direction and encourage employees to create initiatives from bottom up that fit that vision. Employees doing the work and closest to the customers know the challenges, opportunities and ideas for solutions. The firm will not only learn from their employees; employees will be empowered to be a part of positive change at all levels.
Leaders need to be cautious in sharing too many choices. Keep the strategy simple and stick to just one or a few important choices. Employees will not remember a laundry list and worse can be overwhelmed by too many choices and resort back to doing what they have always done.
Top leaders should also resist personally picking projects to be “green-lighted” or “red-lighted.” Instead they need to create a system to objectively select projects that will move on. Innovative solutions and ideas may be overlooked from personal biases or a narrow focus.
Finally, change needs to be the firm’s constant. People and organizational cultures are resistant to change. Culture and employees’ daily work are typically defined by habits. Successful strategies break bad habits, learn new and better ways to do business and constantly question current processes. Today’s technological age and business environment is fast-paced and does not tolerate firms unwilling to change or that are stuck. Strategy must lead the firm in actions that will achieve its goals and carry out its vision.
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