Strategy, when you Google it, is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim”. Strategic planning is the bedrock of successful endeavors. If the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘with whom’ is not defined, the path we are on leads straight to failure—no detours. Great successes are not accidental; they have been strategically planned to occur.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare(1)
Here is something I read a while ago about the import of having a great strategy.
If any of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn't he first sit down and work out the cost of it, to see if he can afford to finish it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and found himself unable to complete the building, everyone who sees it will begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This is the man who started to build a tower but couldn’t finish it!(2)
Many business and personal endeavors have failed because of the lack of a defined strategy of operation. Here, we will discuss the qualities that make for a great strategy.
Qualities of a Great Strategy
Clear: I just had to start with this one. Nothing can be achieved if the process is not clearly defined. Clarity ensures everyone knows EXACTLY when, what, how, why everything is happening. In a game of soccer, strategy is not telling the team “We have to win the game.” Strategy is stating exactly how every goal is going to be scored, and what the defensive approach will be down to every play. For a team to function to its optimum, every member therein must have a clear picture of what the process is.
Thorough: Dictionary.com defines ‘thorough’ as “extremely attentive to accuracy and detail”. I coached a soccer team during my final year in college, and I remember one particular match we played. I drew up a graphic illustration of what formation we were going to employ from the first whistle, if we took the lead, and if we conceded a goal. It was clear. To take it a notch higher, we discussed the first 2 minutes of the game. The goal was to score in the first proceedings of the match. It took one restless night, but I came up with the ‘perfect’ plan. I drew up the movements and tactical positioning required and who would be making them. We practiced it before the game, and the d-day came. I learnt a valuable lesson that day: great strategies almost always work. In keeping with our plan, everyone knowing what to do, when and how to do it, we were up in the first 20 seconds of the game. In the end we lost the game due to an injury of one of our better players, but I was happier than the winning team. My strategy had work just like I envisioned it. Why did it work? I paid extreme attention to every facet of that first play, thoroughly dissecting all the probable scenarios and reaped the benefits of doing so. A great strategy leaves nothing to chance. You must cover all the known unknown bases as much as humanly possible.
Adaptable: Change is the only constant feature of life. Every great strategy must be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. Forgive me for being such a soccer fanatic. I saw an El Classico match some days ago (soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid). In the first 15 minutes or so of the match a key player for FC Barcelona tore his calf muscle and had to be substituted. I got an image of the coach scratch his forehead, probably thinking of who to introduce, and how best to adjust his strategy for this change in circumstances. He did a good job because the lad that came in for the injured player scored the first of four goals in the match. He adapted his strategy for the change. Economic, financial and socio-political climates can be forecasted, but every once in a while events take an unexpected turn. It is at this point every great strategy lives up to its quality of greatness. Adapt or die!
Transferrable: Every great strategy must have in it the quality to be transferred to another system or used by some other people. It might not the used in its entirety, but the basic framework must be transferrable. I recently learnt a great way of handling my finance: Give, save, Live. Now for some people they might choose to save a greater percentage then I do, but the basic frame work is iconic and transferrable. The challenges we face as individuals and organizations and the resulting strategy is not just for our consumption, but for the benefit of those who seek to learn from us. Strategy is the answer to the famous “How did you do that?” question.
Even in little things like doing the laundry, we employ good strategies. We wash the whites separate from the colors. Great chefs know that a great strategy is necessary to produce a great dish. Strategy is the tool of the competent and successful. Don’t face any challenge without a clear, thorough, adaptable and transferrable plan to succeed. And if you fail, don’t give up: re-evaluate, re-strategize and re-launch.
1Proverbs 24:6 (MSG)