The business climate no longer suffers fools.
That’s what it feels like. New and complex technologies, the frenetic pace of innovation, the race to remain relevant in a culture where longevity is increasingly rare. It can sometimes feel hard to get a grasp on, like a handhold on a rock-climbing route that’s just out of reach.
But a handhold that proves temporarily elusive doesn’t mean that you won’t ultimately grab it. It just means that you need to recalibrate your approach.
You have to locate the right route and execute the right strategy, that sublime mix of planning, tactics, and implementation that’ll position you perfectly for your next move.
This is because a fundamental truth of today’s commerce ecosystem is that every one of your strategies, be it your customer-acquisition strategy, product strategy, marketing strategy, brand strategy, launch strategy, or pricing strategy, has to be extraordinarily smart if you’re going to compete in a marketplace that is less and less tolerant of unsophisticated approaches.
But smart doesn’t have to mean complicated. It also doesn’t have to mean trendy. Your strategy can be anti-complication, anti-feature, or even anti-trend.
However, what it can’t be is unconsidered.
It must be shrewd and crafty and calculated.
So, in an effort to shed some light on whether your strategy is moving in the right direction, here are five characteristics of effective strategy.
There’s a balance here that needs to be attempted—a balance between reaching past what you know is capable and stopping short of what you’re clearly incapable of achieving.
It seems simple, but this discernment is hard to come by. Leaders are visionary by nature, which means they can be disconnected from reality.
On the other hand, strategists are logical, which means they can be disconnected from blue sky thinking.
The key is to find that middle place where both the leader and the strategist feel slightly uncomfortable.
That’s the sweet spot where effective strategy really takes shape.
Sure, time is of the essence. It’s never not of the essence. Everything needs to be done now, or even yesterday.
But the reality is that effective strategy, which is the only kind of strategy that matters, takes a certain amount of time to create. It’s often not fast. And that’s a good thing.
Even if the germ of your strategy comes quickly, it should still take a fair amount of time to validate, even if that validation comes solely from within your organization and not from a third-party source.
Having someone outside of your department, or at least outside of your team, take an objective view of your strategy is crucial.
And, frankly, it takes time to do that.
Sometimes the investment is pecuniary. Other times, it’s an investment paid with people’s time. In either case, effective strategy requires a commitment of resources.
That investment will be more or less depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but it’s unwise to think that it won’t need people or dollars or both.
It’s not possible to pull all the assumptions out of a strategy—I’m a firm believer that intuition and experience play a role in effective strategy as well—but it is possible to pull most of them out.
Effective strategies rely on data and evidence, even if a portion of that data is anecdotal. The first phase of every strategic development process should be research, and that research should guide your overall strategic direction.
However, you also need to be committed to validating your strategy along the way, being fearless about changing course when the evidence is clear.
I’m borrowing a McKinsey framework here because it’s relevant and useful.
As the authors write in Mastering the building blocks of strategy, “Companies do better when they ground all their strategy-development efforts and processes in an understanding of the building blocks of strategy. These straightforward modes of activity track the progression of a strategy from its roots as an idea through its emergence as an operational reality.”
The five building blocks of strategy—diagnose, forecast, search, choose, and commit—are bookended by “frame” and “evolve,” which are steps designed to ground you at the beginning of your efforts and push you towards growth and change at the end.
Effective strategy doesn’t need to be elusive. It also doesn’t need to be difficult.
Understanding what effective strategies have in common, and using the five building blocks of strategy, are—to put it simply— what smart brands do to get ahead.