In A.G. Lafley & Roger Martin’s seminal book on strategy, Playing to Win, they define strategy as “making specific choices to win in the marketplace.” On the surface it may seem a bit simplistic, but, put into practice, it’s immensely powerful.
In our work with companies, We often find that strategy is not defined clearly enough to help make real choices. There are two common traps at opposite extremes. Either strategy is so aspirational and generic that it allows for almost anything. Or it’s a set of financial metrics (ex. margin, value creation, etc.) that provides clarity on financial outcomes, but is almost useless in providing guidance on how to achieve them.
In short, a key symptom of a poorly defined strategy is when it allows us to say “yes” to too much. In fact, if strategy is about “making choices,” we should expect to say “yes” to a few important priorities and “no” to everything else. Therefore I’d propose that the acid test of your strategy is its ability to help you say “no.”
Specifically: when was the last time you said “no” because of your strategy? To make it come alive, here’s what it could sound like:
We will not sell to this prospect because of _____ (strategic reason)
We are not quoting on this job because of _____ (strategic reason)
We do not compete on _____ (strategic reason)
We will not invest in _____ because of (strategic reason)
How often does your strategy help you answer any of the above?
If it’s not often, it may be a sign you need to sharpen your strategy so it goes from being “unemployed” to “doing its job” – i.e. making specific choices that help you win!
photo credit: Simon Doggett on flickr