Too often, strategizing becomes a once-in-a-while effort—relegated to the end of the year or, at most, the beginning of each quarter. This annual or quarterly planning comes with a team meeting. There is discussion, nods of agreement, and initial energy toward the strategy.
Then, what comes next? Life happens. Everyone gets busy with day-to-day work and competing priorities.
The result? No one remembers the plan, energy fades, and the strategy becomes a thing of the past.
What’s the risk? By the time anyone realizes the strategy has lost its energy and momentum, the company already has seen missed growth, failed revenue, and the team has a sense of always playing defense.
Approaching strategy from a different angle
What if there was a better approach? What if strategizing became the way challenges and opportunities are tackled and incorporated into the daily routine?
In a Harvard Business Review article titled, “If Strategy Is So Important, Why Don’t We Make Time For It?” author Dorie Clark demonstrates the importance of strategy and explains how easy it is to get bogged down with busyness. She encourages us to be intentional in carving out the time and space to think about the best plan to reach goals.
One very useful practice she suggests to achieve this intentionality is “time tracking.” As she explains, the detailed exercise can result in a true understanding of exactly where time is going—something that can be hard to achieve without taking a step back.
“By becoming aware of the disincentives to make time for strategy—and taking proactive steps to embed strategic thinking into your life and professional schedule—you can stand up for a goal that you recognize as critical,” Clark writes.
Goals vs. strategy
Often, goals and strategy are thought of as one and the same. Knowing the difference here is key to implementing strategic thinking in your daily decision-making.
Goals are tangible, measurable endpoints. They help to keep organizations focused on objectives.
Strategy, on the other hand, plays into how best to achieve a goal. Its very definition is “the art of devising or employing plans toward a goal,” according to Merriam-Webster. Arguably, strategy at its best is a constant process, not something that can be crammed into one meeting a year or a quarter.
Fortunately, strategic thinking can be a developed skill. Training one’s mind to think through scenarios takes some effort, but it is a critical component of any successful endeavor.
To paraphrase a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower: The knowledge you gain during the process is critical to selecting the appropriate action as events unfold.
Adopting a strategic mindset
Below are some steps that I find helpful to keep a strategic mindset. (Note: I often play this out as if I’m going on a hike. Some hikes are easy with few distractions, but other hikes are more challenging and demand more preparation and discipline.)
- Think about where you’re beginning. What is the starting point? What preparations should you make? What is known and unknown about what lies ahead?
- Look ahead to the end. What does it look and feel like? How far ahead is it? How long might it take to get there? When you reach your destination, what impact will it have?
- Create a path from the beginning to the end. What do you need to have with you? What can you gather along the way? Who will be with you? What will happen along the way? Who and what will be impacted? What are the risks, as unlikely as they may seem? How many shortcuts or alternative routes are there?
- Categorize the most likely scenarios that could happen. Pick the top two and create plans to address them so you can reach the end.
- Spend a little time on the unlikely scenarios. These plans don’t need to be as fully thought out, but you should be able to anticipate potential pitfalls, or unexpected challenges, and know what you might need to do to adjust.
- Implement the strategy and plan. As you come upon the scenarios you have imagined, you may need to adjust your plans. If there are new inputs, pause, reevaluate the path, and course correct.
- Continue to gather inputs and change the strategy if you need to. Flexibility is a good thing, and it’s okay to change the strategy based on the new information you collect.
As you set your next goal, remember that successful strategies are not static. Successful strategies continuously change, adapting to new insights and resources.
Take the next steps
At 4A Ventures, we provide the advice, access, accountability, and action to turn your long-term goals into an actionable, offensive strategy.