What exactly is strategy? A collection of complicated Excel sheets and colorful presentations?
Well, we fiercely disagree and so does Ankur Gupta, a business strategy advisor in the corporate strategy team at FedEx.
Gupta joined us at Strategy Fest 2022 to share his thoughts on strategy and key points strategy leaders shouldn't overlook for successful strategy execution.
As he states in his introduction, strategy is usually considered the bold overarching statement written by an organization and it goes something like this: Grow revenue by doing X, Y and Z. Gupta considers this statement to be objective and, to him, strategy is a lot more than that.
Tune in to this talk with Ankur and discover the ABC of strategy along with his tips to rethink your approach to strategy and make it happen.
Keep reading or watch the full talk on Youtube:
#1: Why, what and how
Ankur explains that strategy has three parts that must be addressed:
- WHY are you doing this?
- WHAT do you want to do?
- HOW will you do it?
The WHY clearly defines the reason an organization or department is pursuing a goal. It is a broad statement that defines the mission or the vision of your organization. This initiative can range from “to provide the best customer service” to “to be the largest company in an industry.”
For example, at FedEx, they believe in making every FedEx experience outstanding.
The next step is to define the WHAT. This should be both qualitative and quantitative. To put it simply, WHAT stands for the objectives a department or team needs to meet, including the KPIs they need to achieve to fulfill the WHY.
In FedEx's case, these objectives would mean designing their products and services with stakeholders in mind and ensuring that the end-users have an outstanding experience.
Moving forward, Ankur emphasizes the part of the strategy that is often neglected. The HOW. He shares that, without answering the how, any strategy is incomplete.
To achieve your organization's overarching goals, you must determine the following:
- Specific departments or the teams that are needed to support the goal
- Needed capabilities
- Potential roadblocks teams might face
- The action items for the teams
- Timelines within the teams need to deliver projects or other deliverables
Once you have answers to all these questions, the strategy that you created should be communicated and shared widely.
#2: Share, share, share
Sharing your strategy is key to its success. Everybody in the organization needs to be aware of the why, what and specifically how they are going to contribute toward the realization of the strategy that you have just created.
In Ankur's view, merely putting a company strategy on posters or the company website won't help anyone within the organization feel connected to it.
He shares the following tip:
Sharing should include regular town halls and announcements from the senior leadership. It is essential for the strategy to cascade down to all the departments involved in its implementation. You can use various channels including intranet sites, regular meetings and daily standups. They're all pretty good ways to keep everyone aligned.
This tip leads us to the next important step in strategic planning.
#3: Democratize strategy
Strategy is not something that needs to come from the chief strategist in an organization. It needs to be open for everyone to contribute toward. The inputs from people at different levels across the organization will, without a doubt, differ in depth and maturity. But, as Ankur points out, you want to have a process that isn’t fully mature and inflexible, but is ever-evolving. For that, strategy needs to be democratized.
Agility is the need of the hour. The organization needs to have a culture that promotes experiments and does not place punitive measures around failure. But, to effectively democratize strategy, an anchor should be set so that, even when democratized, organizations are working toward a common vision. This setup can also help alleviate those turf wars while helping facilitate innovation and creativity.
The additional benefit of democratizing strategy is the diversity of thoughts and perspectives that come with it. By including a larger group in the strategizing process, you essentially create a microcosm and get a holistic view of the various departments in the organization. It is this culture that will ensure that the organization can easily adapt to any scenario with the best possible outcome.
However, as Ankur explains, when you are democratizing something and incorporating people from different departments, you need to have clear lines of sight and open communication. This may not mean that you always have 100% consensus, but rather making sure everyone can be vocal about their part in the process.
#4: Prepare for extremes
Ankur points out another very important but rarely-accounted-for aspect of creating a strategy — scenario planning.
If there is anything the past couple of years have taught us all is that we need to be prepared for extreme scenarios and continuously challenge ourselves to think about the extremes.
Here’s how he suggests approaching scenario planning:
- Identify the most favorable and least favorable extremes
- Understand where you currently stand as a team, a department or an organization
- Analyze the organization’s capabilities and get a clear understanding of the misalignments and gaps that need to be filled
- Identify the levers you need to pull to be prepared for the identified extremes
- Make sure you are updating your strategy from time to time to move from a reactive to a proactive mode
Ankur also adds that the interesting thing about extremes is that they come unannounced and leave very little time for organizations to prepare for or pivot. He is sure that none of us foresaw COVID causing such huge disruptions across the world. More often than not, you will find yourself in the midst of a storm that will be too difficult to navigate if you do not continuously challenge yourself to prepare for all the plausible scenarios.
Strategizing is not a simple process. But, there are three key bases you can cover to improve your strategic planning:
- Start planning to be ready for the uncertainties that are actually eventualities bound to happen if not today, then tomorrow
- Answer the Why, What and How for your organization
- Elicit participation from a broad and diverse group of people
So, if you are looking to revolutionize your strategy process, try Ankur’s approach. You can also start a conversation with him 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.