Strategy is most important for an overlooked, but important, reason

Everywhere you look, the word “strategy” is thrown around as a cure for your business ills. Google “develop strategy” and you get close to 450,000,000 results in less than a minute. Most of those results take you to articles that promise you better business results with a better strategy.

But to get a better strategy, you need a handle on the business objectives you want to achieve. It’s all fine and good to want to make a profit; but even with that one sole objective, you still need a strategy to make that profit. And once competitor comes sniffing around your door, you darn well better have a strategy to keep your customers to keep those profits coming in.

However, perhaps retired Hanover Insurance CEO Bill O’Brien said it best: “The problem with most organizations is that they are governed by mediocre ideas.” And when those mediocre ideas become entrenched as “strategy”, then not only does the performance of your organization slips, so does that of your employees. Think about it, the employees who see endless dithering by the leaders of the organization will come to believe that their own future is uncertain. Uncertainty makes people nervous. And if your best performers feel that their own livelihoods and careers are built on a shaky foundation, they’re going to seek opportunities where they are connected to a purpose that is more secure. There’s plenty of research that shows that people need that sense of purpose to feel engaged in their work.

And the people that stay behind? You can guarantee that those are not the A-Team you want helping you to grow your organization.

How can you make a business strategy (and particularly a marketing strategy, since this is, after all, a marketing focused blog) effective for your people? First of all, don’t confuse strategy with tactics. Most of the strategy floating around is really a tactical exercise dressed up in fancy language. Strategy should be the touchstone for your organization, even if the tools and techniques of the tactics have to change.And don’t confuse lofty mission statements for strategy. The strategy should be able to translate into measurable objectives. “To continue to to hold dominance in the market, we need to grow customer share. We intend to grow customer share in the market by 25% over the next 18 months. We will achieve that objective by developing both an awareness campaign and a lead-gen program that targets tech buyers in midrange businesses that have more than $1 million in revenue”. That is a strategic statement that puts a stake in the ground for your people, allows them to come up with the tactics of developing and deploying the campaign and programs, and provides enough structure so people can measure their progress against the result.

How much different would it be to tell your employees this: Our goal is to increase customer share by introducing customer-centric thinking in our organization. Huh? How am I supposed to measure that? How am I supposed to even know if I’m working toward the right end result?

Bottom line, without a good comprehensible strategy, your best people will feel rudderless and unable to measure their own performance to know whether they are doing a good job or not. And those people leave your org to go work for your competition – who may have a much better strategy, now combined with your best asset.