How to Develop a Master Strategy in 3 Steps

Many of you have told me that you want to improve your strategy work. Well, it’s not that complicated. I try to keep it simple:

  1. Look back.
  2. Look around.
  3. Look ahead.

Look Back
It’s helpful to take a look at successes and failures in recent history. What has been learned? Where have we discovered strengths we didn’t know we had? What opportunities went unrecognized?

Looking back helps us establish the boundaries of strengths and weaknesses.

Look Around
This is where it gets more difficult. What are the trends, shifts, and major events occurring around us? Don’t restrict yourself to disruptions related to your industry. We look broadly for the movements that cause ripples across entire economies. Think “butterfly effect.”

  • Where are opinions and attitudes surging or colliding?
  • Who and what is getting attention?
  • What is being ignored?
  • Where is the pain in our society?
  • How are technology and medicine evolving?
  • How will climate change relate to our business? 

Look Ahead
The two previous sections lead us directly towards the final destination: our strategy. But, we don’t just build on past success. We leverage it to envision something extraordinary:

  • What do we want to be recognized for in the future?
  • How will the world be different?
  • How will we be different?
  • What is the impact you want to have on people? Customers, community, country…? How will you change lives?

Think big. Paint the picture of the desired future as it relates to what your organization does (or will do).

With a clear goal in mind, you are ready to begin working on tactics.

Going Further: Get More Input
You can’t develop strategy with 20 people in the room (good luck with consensus!), but you do need more input. Executives don’t know everything.

One of my favorite activities is to gather input from people at the frontline. They see the world differently and are closest to your customers. Focus groups, interviews, and when necessary, surveys can be extremely helpful for discovering opportunities. Their input is a rich source of data when going through the first two steps.

When your team has developed a strategy, road test it with representatives from throughout the organization. What do they think? Is it impossible or can they catch the vision? Don’t roll it out without a critical mass of support.

Mastery: The Question is the Key
During the process, a strong facilitator is the secret sauce: They ask good questions, poke at uncomfortable topics, and suggest connections that have not been considered. Good questions spark good debate and ensure we don’t get stuck in the same old thinking.

Change is all around us. Yesterday’s strategy cannot stand in an age of disruption. Good process drives good results. It’s time to re-write your strategy!

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff