Forget Strategy. Be Strategic Instead

A paperback version of organizational-development consultant Erika Anderson’s book entitled, “Being Strategic” has just been released. In it, she puts forth an excellent definition for her take on ‘strategy’, which she articulates as ‘consistently (making) choices that move you towards your goal’.
The book is a welcome departure from the typical business book that talks in great length about the need for strategy. Reading the best seller list, you can understand why. You are more likely to develop a neurosis over your failings as a business leader than find the path to a working, viable strategy in most ‘must-read’ business books.
Large corporations revel in strategic plans, spending vast sums of money and time composing amazing strategic plans year after year. Few are ever followed, and fewer still reviewed and critiqued at a later date. When large corporations talk about strategy, they usually point to a large binder on the bookshelf and say ‘there it is!’.
Anderson’s book rejects the focus on strategy as a final destination (‘I have a strategy, now let’s get back to work’), and instead gets the reader to think about the process. She stresses the importance of taking a detached and objective view of your business, your environment, and yourself. It is only then that you can have an honest conversation about your business goals, and how you plan to reach them.
Being strategic is a frame of mind, a way of regularly analyzing your situation and asking yourself “Am I focused on the biggest barriers to my success?”
In our work with clients, no word has caused more angst, pain, and frustration as strategy. We have long stressed that developing a strategy should not be a goal unto itself. Being strategic is a frame of mind, a way of regularly analyzing your situation and asking yourself “Am I focused on the biggest barriers to my success?”. Only by thinking systematically through the challenges you are facing can you see the interconnectedness of the environment around you.
Take the example of a steam cleaning business we worked with. The owner, who we’ll call Brian for this article, was frustrated by the lack of growth in his business. When we met him, he was about to start his ‘strategy for growth’, which involved diversifying into upholstery and drapery to increase his revenue potential per job.
As we walked through the various aspects of his business, we realized that the problem wasn’t one of revenue potential, but one of customer acquisition. Brian’s typical customer was within five kilometers of his office, had found his business through the Yellow Pages, and often had not used a steam cleaning service before. We learned, however, that most prospects shied away from the quote he gave over the phone.
We also learned that when he had repeat customers, the size of the subsequent jobs was much larger than the first. When asked why this was the case, Brian indicated that his once customers saw the results of his work, they wanted all their carpets done on a regular basis.
By laying out the motivations of his customers, Brian was able to see how his strategy was not aligned with what prospective buyers wanted. We replaced his diversification strategy with a ‘strategic customer focus’, consisting of a series of changes to his marketing and prospecting processes. Brian started actively targeting families with pets (he himself had three dogs), and offered free onsite quotes to customers in his target area. He also invested in some lighter-duty equipment to handle small jobs more efficiently, so he could offer customers a quick and cost-effective solution to small cleaning jobs.
Brian’s business started to flourish, and his referral rate shot up dramatically. His strategic process kept revealing new insights from his customers, and he was slowly able to add additional services into his portfolio without significant investment. While he has contemplated expansion, he is enjoying plenty of work from repeat customers.
As Brian discovered, small business ‘strategy’ can often be distilled down to little more than opportunistic diversification. Becoming strategic involves clearly articulating where you want your business to be, and then laying out the paths to get there. It is also a continual process, making decisions with the best available information, then re-evaluating when new data comes to light. If it all sounds a little intimidating, pick up Erika Anderson’s book. We promise you’ll look at ‘strategy’, and your business, differently.

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