Strategy, goals, tactics, habits. Buzz worthy business terms used by individuals who want to sound savvy to the changing times, but have no real idea what or how they are used.
Strategy as a Process
The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle – Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Strategy in essence is a long-term plan for how to accomplish a desired vision of the future. A strategy defines the confines from which goals, tactics and habits are formed to accomplish the strategy. While many strategic models describe this interaction as a pyramid, the truth is these actions are an interconnected web and more fluid in practice than the rigidly downward flowing monolithic models. While a strategy defines tactics to perform with aims at accomplishing that strategy at conception, a change in the operating environment, adjustments to technology, or moves made by an opponent factor into changes in strategy. Some might see this as the definition of a business model rather than a business plan, but I look at it more as a dynamic business plan. There are no multi-page ROI charts, or market surveys, but an idea of how to plan, execute, and adapt in your market. For those history buffs reading this post, you may recognize the person who said the above quote, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder was the same man who said another strategy related quote you may be more familiar with “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” When crafting and implementing a strategy at the beginning, the decision of where you want to go must be made first, this becomes your vision.
For example, Polaris Strategies currently wishes “to ensure the continued success of small businesses through the support of the veteran community and effective leadership principles.” This vision guides the company to seek additional opportunities that will benefit not only small businesses, but veterans and leaders as well with an emphasis on effective leadership principles. The strategy of Polaris Strategies supports this vision in ensuring that there is a measurable guiding plan to move towards that vision. The tactics to execute this strategy are constantly being adjusted on a daily basis, but also support both the strategy and vision statement. However, if a new opportunity arises that far exceeds the possibilities of the current strategy due to a change in some variable in the constantly evolving equation of the business environment, the strategy will need to be reassessed and changed as necessary.
Even a vision statement is not safe from change when flexibility and response is the overriding goal. There are many resources on the internet that will tell you all manner of different information about when to change your vision statement. The honest answer is: change it when its necessary to! Don’t get caught up in this answer too much, but there is no “good” answer other than to reflect periodically and adjust when you deem it is time to do so. A good benchmark to use is to create a vision that will last you three to five years and develop strategies that support it each quarter.
Orlando to Seattle
Think about this, if you and some friends are in Orlando, FL and want to take a trip to Seattle, WA. There are many ways to get to the end destination, a train, plane, bus, or drive yourself. In this story, lets assume we decided that the freedom of driving for two weeks and the adventures that will be had along the way is the experience we want to have to get to Seattle. Note that this is still part of the vision, we are just clarifying it right now. To get there, our strategy needs to be created for what route we will drive to get the correct combination of experiences on your way to Seattle. There is the Southern route, cutting through Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, and finally continuing up California and Oregon. There is the most direct route cutting through the central states of Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado. There is the Northern route that takes you through Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana. Since we love Texas barbecue and we have some family members along the way, the southern route is taken. It is by no means the most direct, but it encompasses the totality of our vision, to have great experiences along the way to Seattle. Goals are set for how long we want to drive each day and, most importantly, where do we stop to get those important memories. Our tactic to accomplish those goals encompasses the speed at which we drive each day and when to switch drivers and soon we establish a habit of our our group operates as we pass out of Florida on our trip. Then as we approach the Mississippi river in Louisiana, we find that the entire river is flooded and all the bridges are out for miles (I know, lets suspend our disbelief for the purpose of this story). Now due to a change in our environment, we are forced to either stick with the plan or adapt. Lucky for us, there is a ferry to get us across but there is a line that lasts three days, or we can redirect further North where the river was less damaging to the infrastructure. The ferry will cost us three days of our two week trip, however we will be able to continue with the same strategy of a southern route. The Northern redirect will cost us the same amount of time due to the backtracking, or will cost only one day if we pick up a new route to Seattle. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Something has to bend and change, our two week timeline, our destination of Seattle, our strategy of the southern route, our goals and tactics of how fast we drive and where we stop. Rarely does a strategy work out perfectly, but what a makes strategic planning so powerful is when it is flexible. So what do we do when we are faced with a crisis situation and our carefully laid plans do not materialize the golden egg we were expecting?
Something I learned very quickly in the military was: how we react in a crisis situation says a lot about who we are as leaders. For obvious reasons, the military drills into everyone a sense of urgency and direction that is unparalleled. As a leader, the faster reaction to a crisis, the more options will be available later when the urgency is not as severe. That is to say, do not knee-jerk a reaction to a crisis and completely remake your company due to a small roadblock, but decisive and deliberate action shows individuals that their leadership has a plan and everything will be alright. Whether it is releasing a press release that “we know of the situation and are investigating further,” to our story above where we need to decide how to spend the rest of our trip, to our current challenges faced with a pandemic, crisis management becomes a very real part of every strategic plan. Swift actions of leaders when strategies do not go the way they were planned also mitigate much of the damage, often able to return to their original vision quicker and easier, leading to less downtime and greater sense of direction for followers.
What Does This All Mean?
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. – Sir Winston Churchill
Ultimately, a strategy is only good as the results that is give you. A strategy must be flexible enough to allot for the changes that will absolutely need to come, but rigid enough to provide adequate guidance for the time period that it is planned for. Once the entire plan is crafted, elements at all levels should be analyzed regularly to make certain the plan is still relevant and garnering the desired results. If adjustments need to be made, make them and reevaluate the rest of the plan. With an adaptive strategy, small businesses can grow, become more successful, and become more responsive to the constantly changing environment that we live in.
One last word of advice is to use an outside influencer to assist with strategy building. This person could be a trusted colleague, a knowledgeable person, or someone you trust as a sounding board for ideas and guidance. Having someone from outside your immediate organization provide advice and guidance and assist in finding blind spots and mitigating the risk of strategic plans. This will help ensure that the plans you want to invest in will end up benefiting your business with the best possible chances for success.
Strategic Planning Support