How to form a strategy

My new director joined us in early May and since then she’s been on a tight deadline of 3 months to gather her troops together and formulate a coherent strategy for the newly formed Communications Division. Perhaps she was too ambitious when she agreed to get it done in 3 months because we’re into the fourth month and while there is finally some semblance of a strategy being formed, it is far from being ground breaking.

I know this because having been promoted in duties, I was right in the forefront of all the action and as we are counting days past the original deadline, I am feeling her frustration and anxiety to present her debut before the core management. I really feel for her and want to help as much as I can but seriously this is not a job for one or two people.

We’ve held countless meetings over the last two weeks that can last for 4 -5 hours on end and I can literally see her trying to drag the whole middle management team along with her. I really have to give her credit for her aggressiveness and her tenacity to just push ahead regardless of opposition. I just hope that after all that’s been said and planned, the section heads will really rally behind the proposed strategy – otherwise this would simply be another paper exercise for the third year running.

The problem here as far as I can see is that our section heads are really do-ers. They see all these planning in terms of how it can or will be done and how it translates into work for themselves and their staff. Whereas our director is coming from the angle of a thinker. She’s not so much concerned as to how it will materialise for now but rather the why behind the things we plan to do.

Therein lies the conflict of interests. One questions the status, and the others just want to keep it intact as much as possible. One keeps harping that we’re being tactical and not strategic and the other keeps wondering why we need to fix something that is not broken?

There’s this really good book I’ve read recently called Strategic IQ which may give some clues on the above. A tactic is what you would do to counter a problem, for example,  when a product line is not generating enough profit, the manager may find ways to increase sales or reduce cost by doing more promotions or increasing worker productivity.

The strategic approach however would be to review the competitiveness of the product in the market. Perhaps this is a product that is already being made obsolete by a new technology. So even if the manager is able to increase sales or reduce cost in the short term, there is no long term future for the product. The strategy then is to perhaps create a new product, remodel the existing one or look for a new market etc.

Translating this into the situation I face – one problem we face is that we’re not getting enough participation and interest in our programmes. The tactical approach would be to give better prizes, come up with snazzier ads, spend more money to promote the initiative. The strategic approach would be to determine who the target audience is, what appeals to them, where to find them and then package the programme in a way that entices participation.

Taking a step further back, we may even question whether the programme itself is delivering the desired outcome and perhaps require a redesign altogether.

Having said all this, I admit that this whole concept of strategy is still very elusive to me. You know it’s strategy when you see it but it’s not something you can explain or describe clearly to another person. Anyway for the strategy paper that we’re still working on desperately, here are the key elements:

  1. Mission: what we exist to do
  2. Vision: what we hope to become/achieve. I have to say that having a vision makes the difference between a successful organisation and one that isn’t. We didn’t use to have a vision until our director made us craft one out. And the magical thing about articulating the vision is that it has brought everything we do into perspective. Is this helping us to achieve the vision? If yes, how can we do it better? If not, why are we still doing it?
  3. Outcomes: stepping stones towards achieving the vision
  4. Key Performance Indicators: measurements of our success in achieving the outcomes. The thing with KPIs, make sure they are directly correlated to your outcomes. Otherwise your staff will end up doing whatever it takes for them to meet the KPIs even if it brings them away from your vision.
  5. Target Audience & Desired Behaviours: who your product is for and what you want them to do. It’s easy to identify your target audience but it’s another thing to really know who they are. To know your target audience to the extent that you can tailor your product to meet their needs or perceived values requires in depth research, which is not usually available in the market.
  6. Environment Scan: what is the current environment in which we operate in
  7. Competitive Advantage using SWOT Analysis: No matter what you are trying to do whether for profit or not, you’re always competing with something or someone else. It took me awhile to recognise this. As a government body, I always thought that we were the monopoly. But the truth cannot be further from this. With the Internet and rise of social media, nobody wants to listen to the government anymore and so we have to try doubly hard to get the people’s attention. I dare say, it is easier to get someone to part with their money these days than their time.

These elements have to be coherent. The more aligned they are, the clearer it will be for you to formulate your strategy. The SWOT analysis which would be a product of your vision, outcomes, target audience and the environment scan put together will help point out

  • strengths which you can capitalise on,
  • weaknesses for you to build up,
  • opportunities for you to tap on and
  • threats for you to mitigate.

Your strategy should help you to do either one or all of these.

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