You might have heard that we're a little nerdy about strategy development here at Cascade. What you might not know is that our nerdiness extends to a love of the fantasy series, The Witcher (and it’s not because Henry Cavill is built like the king of the lumberjacks).
Witchers draw on extensive knowledge to carefully plan for every battle—their success is a product of carefully considered strategy, perfect execution, and a willingness to improvise.
Unfortunately, most businesses don’t have much in common with fantasy action dramas. Only 22% of employees feel that their leaders have a clear direction for their organization. That lack of focus could cause you to miss out on your goals (or a troll could eat you—we're not sure which is worse).
Here’s what you will learn in this article:
- What is strategy development?
- When do you need to develop new strategies?
- 8 steps of the strategy development process
- What makes a good strategy
- Develop your own strategy
What is strategy development?
Strategy development is the process an organization uses to determine how it will allocate its resources and get maximum impact from its people to achieve its objectives. It's the act a team will conduct to produce a measurable and specific action plan intended to help the business operate, innovate, and grow.
As you focus on strategy development, you must consider your business model and how you can engage everyone from the bottom up. They all must believe in your mission statement and vision if you are going to tap into their collective abilities to gain a competitive advantage.
When do you need to develop new strategies?
An effective strategy is agile, making it easy for you to quickly adapt to changes in circumstance, seize new opportunities, and remain relevant in a dynamic marketplace where customer interests change with the wind. It bobs and weaves like a sword-wielding (yet approachable) monster slayer in leather pants.
You may not always need to develop a brand new strategy every time you face a new challenge—you can tweak the existing one. That's not to say you should never scrap a strategy that isn't working. Sometimes, it's best to start from scratch.
In all cases, strategic decisions are a product of your unique circumstances—if you're connected to your strategy, you will be best placed to decide what to do and when.
8 steps of the strategy development process
With the basics covered, it's time to find out how you can help your people do their most meaningful work and drive your business to hit its goals. Let’s break it down with our eight-step strategy development process:
1. Determine your strategic position
Before you can set off on a new strategy adventure, you must get a fix on your current status. As you take a moment to review your assets and core competencies, you can avoid any snap judgments that over-commit your resources (or underestimate how much you need). You’ll also have a comparison point to look back on when you try to measure success.
A SWOT analysis is an effective tool that gives you a holistic overview of your current situation before getting into the weeds. It’s a smart idea to log key data such as revenues, employees, satisfaction levels, and other metrics at this point—the more information you have to compare with later, the more you will understand the impact of your strategy and how to adapt it in future.
2. Define your vision
Next, translate your overall business plan, vision, or mission into achievable strategic goals. You need quantifiable, realistic targets for your business as a whole that everyone can get behind and contribute towards. Consider how you will achieve these targets on every business level, from the top-down and the bottom-up.
We recommend you use the SMART framework to set goals that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. It's good to set KPIs (key performance indicators) at every level, from your overarching organizational goals to individual project targets. This approach is a great way to clarify the roadmap and help everyone connect their work to the vision, which closes the planning to execution gap.
3. Prioritize your strategic objectives
Right, you're kitted out, and you've got your strategic goals. What's next? Make sure there’s good coffee in the break room, right? No? What about a princely gift to the CEO to boost morale?
Not all objectives are created equal, and your task is now to get your ducks in a row to show your team what matters most. You must think about budget, time, impact, and the alignment of any daily actions with your organizational goals and overall vision.
When you create a hierarchy of goals, it guides your decision-making when you face challenges later. You may need to compromise something (like the budget for soya milk in the office kitchen), but with clarity on your objectives, your people will always know what to focus on and what is expendable.
4. Decide who to involve in strategy development
Collaboration is crucial when you develop a strategy. So, you must make your people a priority. A human-centric attitude can benefit every stage of strategy development, but it is imperative once you have set and prioritized your primary objectives.
Consider which individuals and teams you need to reach each goal. In the spirit of strategy democratization, you must bring everyone on board (even Matt in legal, who always vetos your fun marketing ideas).
The more input and buy-in you get, the more engagement and enthusiasm you’ll see. In turn, it’s more likely that people will reach their targets. Where multiple teams have the same objective, ensure that there are clear channels for communication and collaboration between them.
5. Figure out how to allocate your resources
Which team gets what and why? Is there a plan to help any team request more resources based on performance? Are the allowances realistic? Does everyone have enough coffee and staplers?
The questions are endless. Everyone expects easy access to what they need. Trade-offs may be necessary, so refer to your priorities, and decide which areas are most important and when to cut losses.
Don’t forget to include a safety net for unforeseen expenses, as you don't want to run out of anything mid-project. That said, you must incorporate limits, so you don't unwittingly drain the budget.
Keep track of your team members' capacity and assign responsibilities accordingly.
Humans are often neglected. In your business, remember people need to rest and have a good work-life balance. Even inanimate objects like car engines or computers will burn out quickly if they're always running, so be mindful of your people's efforts and spread out crunches between cool-down periods.
6. Roll out the execution
The core purpose of strategy development is to make sure you take your ideas to implementation. For that, you must dream bigger and execute better.
At this stage, you must share information with your organization. With a focus on team alignment, you can get everyone on the same page about what they need to do and how they need to do it—and why. When people have the details and direction, it's easier to take action. This vital step is what helps your company make the leap from a plan to execution.
Connect all plans, KPIs, and projects in one place. Cascade gives your teams access to the same data source. Increase transparency and ensure their daily tasks are aligned with the strategic plan.
The question is, how can you tell if you execute better? How can you know if you do things right or if your actions make any impact at all? That brings us to our final step in strategy development.
7. Review and refocus
Data analytics is the secret to understanding how successful your strategy is in the real world. Remember those KPIs and targets you set on every project? Well, here is where it all makes sense (hopefully!)
Strategy is not like an arrow you fire at a minotaur and then forget—it’s more like a homing fireball spell where you can tweak your trajectory, speed, and power en route for maximum impact. As you track and measure your progress with real-time data feedback, you can identify problems and discover opportunities to add value to your strategy.
Create personalized and automated reports within Cascade. You’ll be able to analyze real-time data and make faster key decisions.
When you make strategy everyone’s business, you can brainstorm better ways to do things in order to get more positive outcomes. Plan regular check-in meetings with everyone and encourage frank, open communication.
Don’t be afraid to disrupt the way you do strategy if things aren’t panning out, and take the opportunity to revise goals if your people exceed expectations. Also, you must know when to pull the plug. You might be tempted to throw more resources at a problem-riddled project. But listen to your people, listen to the data, and make the hard (but smart) decisions.
8. Reward effective performance
The human-centric approach to strategy development doesn't stop with the plan—you must acknowledge savvy execution. People are happier when they do meaningful work and happier again when their colleague recognize their efforts. If the company doubles its revenue and all you do is roll out some cupcakes on a Friday afternoon, don't be surprised if the performance levels start to drop.
Take your cues from your employees, and don't be afraid to ask them what they would consider a suitable reward for hitting their goals. Try to find a mutually agreed-on reward or incentive structure that will help engage everyone in making your vision theirs and making success happen as a team.
What makes a good strategy (and why it's important)
Execution is what counts—but you first need a solid foundation that charts the course for your people to take action. Without a clear strategy roadmap, people will get lost like an elfen princess in the woods.
When you get your strategy right, you empower your people with an inclusive plan that gives them more context, clarity, and responsibility. This human-centric approach improves engagement and motivation and ultimately helps you unlock more of your team's potential and reimagine your business's future.
A good business strategy is dynamic, adaptive, and accessible to everyone in your business (not just the leadership team). And it’s not a one-and-done activity. Strategy development is an iterative, ongoing, collaborative process that constantly considers how to optimize every step of the way from the planning phase to successful execution (and to the celebratory drinks at The Fox tavern on a Saturday night).
These three tips will make your strategy as effective as possible:
- Be self-aware. Know what you want to represent and achieve as a business and remain true to that vision. Don’t compromise your identity or values, and play to your strengths.
- Prepare to adapt. You must not stick too rigidly to any plan in the digital age, especially in fast-paced markets. Sure, have a solid strategy, but it's crucial to plan contingencies, review regularly, and make changes whenever needed.
- Remember to be radically human. People will make your vision a reality, not the jazzy little slideshow or spreadsheet your CEO raved about at that dull presentation. Your people aren't pawns—they're stakeholders you can turn into strategy activists and vision drivers. Put their needs first, and they'll do more for your strategy and vision.
When you excel at strategy development, you can replace the traditional model of an autocratic CEO who barks orders about his vision. Instead, you can usher in a new, open-minded C-suite that foster a close-knit culture where people talk about making our vision a reality. This shift in mindset will catapult you to better outcomes as you give everyone a voice in your strategy.
Develop your own strategy
Rejoice! You’ve learned the key ingredients of a perfect action plan.
While you have done well, there is always more to learn on the path to true mastery of the strategic planning process. Thankfully, we have converted our sacred texts into a handy eBook with step-by-step guides to effective strategy creation, designed to be jargon-free, practical, and drawing on the experience of thousands of successful strategy executions. Strategy development just got a whole lot easier.