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Strategy Is As Strategy Does - StrategyFest Recap

Article by 
Cascade Team
  —  Published 
October 24, 2022
April 25, 2023

What is strategy, other than a deep philosophical question that sends most of us soul-deep in self-reflection?

(Hopefully not.)

During the Strategy Fest 2022, Sana Mohammed spoke about her approach to strategy and what tactics she uses to activate it. She shared an 8-item checklist that you can incorporate into your approach.


Sana is the Director of Global Loyalty Strategy at McDonald's Corporation. She has been very strategic throughout her entire life. For example, she wanted a long-term career at McDonald's that's enriching and fulfilling, where she would constantly be learning and having fun.

So she consciously pivoted. From US operations, global technology and global marketing strategy functions, she has eight cumulative years at the company. And she still has a lot to learn from this behemoth of a business. In this keynote summary, she’ll share some of the things she learned along the way.

Keep reading or watch the full talk on Youtube:

Strategy is a verb, and you only need to practice it to get better over time.

Strategy is as strategy does

Strategy is a soaring vision, broken down into long-term goals, broken down into medium and short-term action plans, brought to life by the sole power of people.

It can't just be the soaring vision, the blue sky thinking.

That’s only 10% of the work. Every step of that process is important. And that's the only way it grows your business, grows your people and helps you reach your goals.

The remaining 90% of the work is activating your strategy.

McDonald’s loyalty program: an example

McDonald’s global loyalty programme took Herculean efforts and unprecedented collaboration.

Members from five global functions and over 20 global teams across the organization came together to create this feelgood, inclusive and engaging loyalty program.

The task was challenging.

But the idea was simple. The program rewards guests with points for purchasing the food they love. Then the guests can redeem the points immediately for free food.

The program had to be an on-brand programme consistent with McDonald’s values, mission and goals. And it had to be globally consistent but locally flexible. It also had to improve customer and crew experience while staying operationally simple for all three stakeholders: the guests, the franchisees and McDonald’s.

Baking the program construct was just 10% of the work.

But it was when 90% (and more) of the work began that the team stepped on the gas.

From creating a new training simulator and a crew incentive programme to building an interdisciplinary loyalty hub and its processes. The team even managed a brand new vendor and crafted multiple market guides and manuals, developing a turnkey fraud plan while continually iterating. Not to mention the constant consulting from every corner of the organization.

And then, they created tailored plans inclusive of marketing plans, technology, finance and operations plans for each market to get them to launch and post-launch phases.

Did the work payout? In 2020, McDonald’s had 12 loyalty markets. Today, it has 45 and is still growing. Now, Sana and her team are working on setting up a center of excellence. The goal is to monitor the health of the global loyalty programmes, optimize their success, and then activate a global loyalty community.

Sana’s 8-step strategic checklist

With this strategic checklist, Sana shares eight tactics to get all of your people in lockstep towards your goals and action plans.

1. Start with the team

Always start with people.

Leverage the diversity of thought in your cross-functional team. The strategy team is strategic only when it pulls in as many diverse perspectives as possible. Ask yourself, are all voices included and heard equitably? Putting together a team isn’t enough. In every meeting, you need to evaluate who are the quieter or more analytical experts and who are the louder thinkers, more dominant voices.

And then managing each one differently, but equally.

Look out for small cliques of subcultures and subteams that do subpar work. If you can maintain the mindset of being the owner of the business, then building a team with a cohesive culture will be your main job. Because that will determine your success.

If you're struggling with this, borrow Michelle Buck’s, Sana’s professor, question: Where do you come from that's not a geographic location? Ask everyone in your team in a group setting and listen to the answers. Really listen to the answers, and look for common threads that bind them into a single cohesive, committed team.

Your team will be candid and still challenge each other in a safe space.

Building this is your strategic priority. 

2. Provide the soaring vision and the long-term goals

What do you want to do that will grow the business and the people think deeply about?

Things like the context of your business and the competitive landscape. And then what can you do to differentiate yourself and stay ahead in the marketplace? How will your business change because of your vision? That’s a good question to ask yourself when you put on your visionary hat.

And when it comes to the long-term goal, determine the financial or operational metric you want to manipulate over the next year or two. Find out what activities and people currently impact that metric directly. Pull in all your allies from finance and sales to product or operations to help you identify these key metrics.

Recognize how far you may be able to manipulate it in the allotted time. Context and competitive landscapes change every few years depending on what business you're in.

So, keep a consistent pulse and have the inbuilt ability to flex.

3. Define a learning agenda for your vision

A learning agenda is what takes you through a project from beginning to end.

It’s where you look when you want to go one step deeper than the preliminary data or the KPI dashboard at hand. It helps you deliberately discover your projects, propellers and constraints while enabling you to gather, curate, and share information learned over time.

This empowers your global markets and your global loyalty team to make informed prioritization and sometimes reconfiguration decisions based on key learning points and deep cross-functional insights.

There are three steps to establishing a learning agenda with your markets. 

  1. Establish the mindset of learning as an active and continuous process and not a static library. What do you want to learn about this process you want to identify? Who are the key audiences? And what is the learning timeline? So what can you learn by when and who can help you?
  2. Figure out the key focus areas. This will inform the questions you ask and shift behavior. In the loyalty programme, for example, the key focus areas were member experience, member value, programme economics and programme operations.
  3. Assign cross-functional learning leads that are accountable to ask questions, set hypotheses, bubble up learnings and then prioritize and implement these learnings continuously. This is the most tactical part of the learning agenda.


4. Gain buy-in

Negotiate, persuade, align, influence, whatever word you want to use.

You need people who have bought into your vision and plan across cross-functional teams. That includes all stakeholders, from leadership members or steering committees to sponsors.

As another one of Sana’s professors would say, “Dissect the stakeholders you have so that you can identify the key decision-makers, the circle of influence around each key decision-maker, and then separately, identify your key promoters versus detractors.”

You'll need to manage each of them respectively.

5. Figure out what not to do

This is really important. Define what you're not going to do.

Call it out.

Gain alignment on it just as you would for work that you are going to do. Until your business context and competitive landscape change and you can reevaluate, stick to not doing the things that are on your not-to-do list. The only things that should be driving your business are one or two major financial goals, driven by three to four strategic initiatives linked to less than ten instrumental tactics that are led and supported by the majority of your teams.

It's the tried and true method for running a revenue-generating business.

6. Activate your strategy by distorting your resources

The word “distort” is chosen very prescriptively.

You only have three resources: people, time and money. If you want extraordinary results, you'll need an extraordinary amount of resources. Distributing your resources won’t cut it.

You need to distort them towards your strategic initiatives. 

7. Rally a crowd

Every leader has a soaring vision.

But a strategic leader recognizes the power of people and can generate enough voltage to bring swarms of people to follow the vision. As a strategic leader, you need people to want to work towards that vision.

So have a rallying cry everyone across the organization can see ,hear, feel and ultimately repeat.

During the development of the loyalty strategy programme, the team knew a couple of things. 

First, McDonald’s had fans long before the loyalty programme, and will continue to have fans beyond the loyalty programme. The program was just a way for the company to reward customers for their loyalty.

Second, as an industry leader, McDonald’s had a significant share of spend - transactions from customers - and a significant share of mind - brand awareness. So, what they’re really after is a share of heart. They want to bring customers and crew from brand loyalty to brand advocacy, from transactions to relationships, and from engagement to true connection.

Their rallying cry is:

“Build unbreakable relationships with our customers, driven by the world's largest, most engaging loyalty programme.”

And every single one of the team communication decks starts with this rallying cry. In every cross-function, at every level, and for anyone who ever asks.

So anyone on the loyalty programme knows the team’s vision: to build unbreakable relationships with McDonald’s customers by building the world's largest, most engaging loyalty programme.

And there's no question about it, everyone's rightfully aligned on that rallying cry. 

8. Keep on flexing

Not bragging. Literally, stay flexible.

The famous Professor Michael Wade, who transforms organizations for a living, has a list of six things for today's phygital world, where digital transformations are becoming a necessity.

  1. Progress is greater than perfection
  2. Flexibility is greater than planning
  3. “Just in case” is better than “just in time”
  4. Empowerment is greater than hierarchy
    Let the leaders design, govern and update the organizational model. And empower the teams you work with to set up, operate and run the business.
  5. Learning is greater than blaming
    The learn-it-all will always do better than the know-it-all. Nobody likes a know-it-all anyway.
  6. Resource modularity and mobility are greater than resource specificity
    For digital tools and resources in a fast-changing environment, learn when the vertical part of the “T” is more important than the top of the “T.” Sometimes, expertise and knowledge are more important than the breadth of knowledge.

And to be candid, it doesn't hurt to have an “M”, as well, which is tools and resources with Multiple areas of expertise.

How have you activated your strategy?

Sana’s tips help you tackle the one challenge that every strategist faces, how to activate your strategy. Connect with her on Linkedin. In the meantime, if you are looking for a shortcut to boost your strategy execution, use Cascade’s strategy execution platform to create strategic plans and turn them into reality.



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