“Dear Strategy Guy”

February’s combination of snowdrifts and Valentine’s Day seems like the appropriate time to respond to some of the most pressing reader letters regarding strategy. So here goes:

Dear Strategy Guy: The SVP of our Division requires us to fill out a 40-slide PowerPoint template, which we then turn into a 20-page written strategic plan. Problem is, the plan basically sits on a shelf collecting dust the rest of the year and we don’t really use it. Any thoughts?”

—Plan on a Shelf

Dear Plan on a Shelf: I call this Penguin Planning because it reminds me of how Emperor penguins reproduce. They travel up to 75 miles once a year to mate for a few minutes and then the female immediately disappears. If strategy for your group is a once-a-year trip that lasts a few days and then disappears into a binder that never gets opened, you’re practicing Penguin Planning.

Find a new strategy process that includes periodic strategy tune-ups and a 1-2 page plan that can actually be used on a daily basis. As a general rule, you should be strategizing and mating more than once a year. If not, please seek professional help. I can assist with the strategy part. Probably not so much the mating part.

Dear Strategy Guy: Our group tends to get caught in the weeds of the business. We spend most of our time coming up with new tactics to respond to competitors but don’t really have a strategy that drives the direction of the business. What should we do?”

—Weed-Eater

Dear Weed-Eater: Your team’s M.O. is a lot like the Milkweed plant. It’s named Milkweed because of the milky white juice that seeps out when the plant is broken off or cut. The dried juice serves as a bandage that covers the exposed area. Rushing to plug holes in the business with reactive tactics is also a bandage that will sooner or later be ripped off by the competition. Better to establish a sound strategy and then use the strategy to filter initiatives and tactics. If your leadership team thinks they can continue to get by with tactics and no strategy, they may have moved from being in the weeds to smoking them.

Dear Strategy Guy: Our strategy seems to be an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the market. We’re trying to be all things to all people and it’s frustrating because we’re spreading ourselves too thin. We don’t do anything really well. Is there a way we can improve?

—Kitchen Sink

Dear Kitchen Sink: When strategy becomes a catch-all for everything, it loses its meaning. Just ask the Bonobo. This type of Chimpanzee has taken the act of mating and expanded it to mean everything from a casual greeting to conflict resolution. If you think this type of intimacy confusion is challenging for a Bonobo, imagine the bewilderment inspired by a “Bonobo strategy” with no trade-offs.

Without the criteria and discipline to say no to potential offerings, types of customers and adjacent markets, we’re no more advanced than the Bonobo. Start by choosing your ‘nots,’ the products and services you’re not going to provide, customers you’re not going to serve and markets you’re not going to enter. Stop approaching every opportunity like a Bonobo and put some clothes on your strategy!

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