Once a year, I spend two days with my client companies developing their annual plan. While we continuously review strategy throughout the year, the annual plan is a chance to do a deeper dive into the internal and external factors that inform how to go to market.
Getting this strategy right, and keeping it right, is key to long-term growth and success. However, many teams get it wrong. They don’t get it wrong because the strategy they develop won’t work, but because it’s impossible to explain it in simple terms. If it’s not easy to explain, it will be impossible to execute.
Your employees, your partners, and your customers are the ones who will actually be implementing your strategy. If it’s too complicated to understand, they won’t understand it.
After you’ve decided on all of angles you’re going to play and all of the moves you’re going to make, set to work developing a simple, clear, and effective way to communicate it to everyone on the team. Here are three things every strategy must communicate easily and effectively to all stakeholders.
1. Set a clear (and limited) set of focused priorities.
In essence, strategy is about choice. And the first objective is to set a clear and decisive set of priorities for the organization. The fewer the better. These need to be above and beyond the day-to-day work and focused on long-term goals and key moves needed to get there.
Strategic moves include things like creating new products or services, developing new capabilities, entering new markets, scaling up capacity, or even researching technology. While all of these might help the organization, trying to do all of them at once won’t. Pick three to five for the year, max.
Another trick I often employ is to list all of the strategy options that the team eliminated or de-prioritized. By publishing these strategies as well, you’re making specifically clear what you’re NOT doing in the coming year.
2. Set a clear definition of success and a timeline.
Beyond direction, a good strategy needs a clear desired outcome and definition of success. Too many strategies stop at big ideas without nailing down specifics. The devil lies in the details. Too often, I see a team of people agree to a high level strategic priority, only to discover they are on vastly different pages when the details are fleshed out.
For each strategic direction, create a set of specific goals that are both measurable and time bound. It should be clear to everyone what constitutes completion, and it ideally should include a handful of objective criteria. I generally suggest a simple checklist or short description of the outcome or product.
3. Create a compelling vision of future success.
Now that you have a clear set of priorities and a definition of success, it’s time to paint a vivid picture of success. As humans we’re wired to be compelled by stories and visual images. Turn the goals you’ve selected into a narrative explaining why you’ve chosen these objectives, why they are the most important ones, and how achieving these will lead to organizational success.
If someone on your team has a creative bent, try illustrating your desired future with photos and illustrations. If you’re developing a new product or service, find images that reflect the impact you want to create on your customer. If you’re expanding into a new geography, create a slideshow highlighting the city or region and explain why it’s such an attractive market.
Having a strategy with a clear set of priorities and objectives with actionable outcomes will increase your stakeholder alignment. By creating a rich vision for future success you’ll drive engagement and motivation. When in doubt, keep it simple, clear, and compelling. A basic strategy, well-executed, will always beat a brilliant one whiffed.