Lesley Hawkins, VP of Retail at Adidas, joined us for World Strategy Day 2022. In her session, “From Strategy To Elevator Pitch,” where she talked about a subject that has taken her about 30 years to refine: how to build a strategy that can be easily explained in a 30-second elevator ride.
Visual representation of Lesley’s session
She started her talk by sharing her personal mantra: “the only constant in life is change.”
Coming out of the pandemic, we've seen major shifts in consumer behavior and consumer expectations. Our ability to deliver against those changing preferences is really what is gonna define our business success.
And change is also a constant when it comes to strategic work since your strategy is the direction for the future of your company and the team. It will impact your structure and your business communications.
So how do we build strategy taking this into account?
Lesley shared with us four key steps that are needed to build a successful strategy: research, draft, vet, and (finally!) build.
Let’s go into each one of these steps!
Every strategy needs to start with research.
One of the fundamental parts of this research is looking into consumer insights and the market landscape.
You can ask some of these questions:
- who is your consumer?
- what are they looking for?
- what are they seeking?
- what feedback can you garner from your key partners or stakeholders?
- what is your associate experience within the company?
- what issues are impacting your business?
- what’s happening in the marketplace?
With these answers, you can conduct a SWOT analysis to detect and analyze your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
But here’s the important part! The real outcome once you finish the research should be to be able to answer the most important question of all: where is your greatest opportunity?
Recommended readings: Internal Analysis: What is it & How to conduct one.
So step two in building the strategy is starting with a draft.
A draft can be just as simple as a bunch of post-it notes on a board with some keywords or thoughts. Try to avoid focusing on the details and the execution of the strategy, but really focus on three key topics:
- The problem: what are we trying to solve for?
- The objective: what is the vision for the end game?
- The outcome: how are we going to measure the success?
Recommended readings: What are Strategic Objectives? How to write them + Examples.
After you finish your strategy draft, one of the key steps in the process of building strategy is vetting. This is the moment to do a pulse check. It's the opportunity to make sure that you stayed the course.
With the draft in hand, go back to your research! Really make sure that your strategy is answering the questions and issues that you recognized during your research. Are you focused on the right areas? Did you get sidetracked into the execution part of the strategy?
This step will help make sure you stay grounded. A recommendation is to take some time to share the strategy with key stakeholders outside of the group that you're already working with to gain additional feedback.
Recommended readings: How to share and get feedback about your strategy.
So after you've done your vetting, now comes the time to write out the strategy. And the best strategies are those that are laser-focused.
Here are some recommendations for this building phase:
- Keep everything down to three pillars - maybe four - but three is actually the magic number.
- Avoid industry jargon or internal company jargon even. It must be easy to understand from every level of the organization.
To make sure it’s simple enough, you can double-check by testing it out on others. So, try talking to different people within the organization. Is it really easy for them to understand? Remember you want your strategy to be as intuitive as possible.
Recommended readings: The Ultimate Strategic Planning Guide.
Structure: Ladder Up To Strategy
Deep dive into your pillars
With your strategy in hand, now it's time to focus on the structure. It’s probable that the strategy you built, doesn’t immediately match your existing structure, and you may need to adapt it.
Think of the structure for each pillar. Go back to the three pillars of your strategy and work with each one independently. This exercise forces you to focus. Focus on the tasks required to execute each one. What are the areas of responsibility? What outcome is needed more than anything?
Just as you did during the building of the strategy, the same holds true for building the structure: get back to the vetting!
Make sure that you are still refering back to the strategy. Is your structure answering your main questions? Is there overlap? Are there gaps?
People: Bums In Seats
With a sound strategy supported with an appropriate structure, now you need people in the roles. You've already defined the areas of responsibility and decision making for each team when structuring the pillars.
Now, match that with the skills or functional knowledge you need and build for each role a clearly defined skill set. You got that? All right. Now literally put it aside.
On a separate piece of paper, start mapping your talent. Look at each of your team members: what are their areas of strength? What are their areas of interest? You need to match both their strengths and interests so they are fully engaged.
Once you have your clearly defined skill set by role and your talent map, it’s about connecting the dots. Of course, there may be instances where you don't have a match but it’s likely that someone in your team can stretch or be trained for the role.
We already have a clearly defined strategy supported by a structure and driven by a solid team. What's next? Well, it always comes down to communication, because your strategy is only as good as how you communicate it.
It's the direction for the future of the company! So it needs to be communicated clearly and often so that the teams that own each pillar have it present in their daily work. And most important, each team needs to be accountable and own their piece.
Encourage them to share how their role and daily actions contribute to the strategy in company meetings. Try having different team members share how they're going to deliver against the strategy: what actions are they going to take?
The more that you and your team talk about the strategy and action plan, the more it gets fully ingrained into their ways of working and into your culture - which is ultimately what you want. That's how you drive a strategic culture where strategy is not just a piece of paper on a bulletin board.
Ultimately, you want it to be as easy as an elevator pitch. So imagine, you have 30 seconds on an elevator with your CEO, and she asks you what you're working on. You would want every associate throughout the organization, irrespective of their role, to be able to clearly and succinctly talk about the current actions that they're doing to drive the strategy forward.
Recommended readings: 3 Steps To Launch and Communicate Your Strategy.
There are always pitfalls that we can run into. By the end of the session, Lesley shared a few of the pitfalls that she has experienced after years of building numerous strategies.
Let’s look into them:
- Your strategy can never be static. Always remember, change is a constant with any strategy so make sure it’s flexible, malleable, and not a one-and-done process.On the contrary, it requires constant review, adjustment, and tweaks. Strategy is a living, breathing process.
- Exclusive strategies are doomed. Strategies that have been cooked up in the corner office and not built through collaboration or through a diverse team will surely fail.
- Complicated strategies are a recipe for failure. A strategy that is full of jargon, whether it's industry or company jargon, marketing speak, and complicated messaging is also doomed to fail. They need to be easy to understand, easy to repeat, and easy to pitch in an elevator.
Recommended readings: Top 5 Failed Business Strategies.
Recipe for success
In conclusion, we could summarise the recipe for success with three key takeaways:
- Build a strategy that has been researched, co-created, and vetted again and again.
- Create a structure that ladders up to the strategy with a focus on three pillars, and then map your talent to match those pillars.
- Integrate the strategy into every communication, every team meeting, every town hall, and every company activity.
Ultimately, your elevator rise will be so much more interesting and far more engaging.
Watch the complete session: