“Ohhhhh please, not again” I thought to myself. We were approaching another strategic planning cycle. You could even hear the verbal sighs from the rest of the team thinking the same thing.
Are we really going to waste our time in another annual strategy session where we come up with all sorts of lofty goals, objectives, and plans? Knowing full well, that we haven’t really uncovered & understood enough from the external world, for us to make a set of choices that will have a real impact.
According to Inc. “67 Percent of Strategic Plans Fail”.
In the times we’re living in, there’s still plenty of unknowns to unfold. If we keep doing things the conventional way, we’d have to seriously ask ourselves how worthwhile this sort of approach to strategy is going to be.
Should we just keep doing the same thing?
Well, if we keep looking at strategy as a plan or a document to keep everyone ‘aligned’ or keep the boss & board happy, it won’t add a whole lot of value.
Planning is consistently wrongly used as a substitute for strategy
And if we mistakenly treat strategy as a plan, it usually gives us a false sense of security. That ”tick”, we’ve done our strategy. Now we can move on.
But when this happens, we end up missing some of the most critical customer and market shifts that are right in front of us or not far along the road.
So what’s the alternative?
We put the traditional “inside looking out” view aside and start outside our own four walls. Starting with internal ideas and think-tanks rarely results in new insights or new ways of looking at the market.
Instead, we take an “outside looking in” approach and start by having direct conversations with customers, partners and our broader sector.
We’re not talking about surveys or reams of data analysis. They certainly have their place, but we’re talking real customer & market “conversations”.
This is where we uncover real problems and real opportunities. Without this approach, we miss getting a ‘live’ read of what’s happening at a grass-roots level.
But couldn’t we be wasting our time?
It’s funny how most of us seem to feel like we need to have all the answers. Thinking that our customers & staff want us to say that we already know what we need to do.
Leaders must shift from a “know it all” to “learn it all” mindset
Satya Nadella CEO Microsoft
But in fact, our customers and staff instead want us to invest the time to listen. Not just assume that we already have the answers. The conversation inherently builds relationships and a community with our market at the same time.
Without it, we are missing a massive part of the puzzle.
Start with the “people closest to the problem”
I remember when I first heard this concept. It rang true, but my ego said it was too simple. What about all the other complex and highfalutin strategy frameworks out there?
Now I can say, from first-hand experience. The simplicity of it can be frightening.
“Real insights come from seeing the world through someone else’s eyes”
Dr. Graham Kenny
When we take the time to create the space and listen to the people that are “closest to the problems” we’re trying to solve, things start to shift.
Strategy is no longer about just words on a page. It’s something that evolves from grass-roots conversations with customers about what they are seeing, hearing & feeling.
We can then start to co-discover insights & opportunities that become the foundation of our strategy.
So how do we start?
Simply choose a few existing and a few potential new customers to get in touch with. Whether you’re the CEO, on the board, or in any sort of leadership role.
Resist going with a long list of questions or reverting to just blasting out a structured survey.
Simply start with a “blank canvas” (more on this later) conversation.