When people think about how ‘corporate strategy’ is created, often times they think about someone coming up with ideas and a roadmap to achieve long-term goals. This is partially true. The reality is, there is more to developing corporate strategy than jotting down some numbers into an Excel spreadsheet.
Coming up with a strategic analysis can be a challenging task. It involves months – and sometimes years – of absorbing and consolidating complex, high level information from academic journals to research papers and datasets. Once the analysis is done, these visionary topics that can potentially help design the corporate strategy should be communicated across the business (which can be any part of the business whether it’s network, finance, sales, marketing or technology). As much hard work as this background task is, it’s quite rewarding in terms of injecting a future outlook and vision into a company.
Whether you’re in a small or large company, following a strategic plan should be a daily practice in order to align day-to-day tasks towards a common long-term vision. In doing so, here are five tips to think about before tackling your next strategic decision.
Two heads are better than one
There is some truth to this adage as diversity often brings new points of views that you personally might not see. In a typical strategy team, there are three areas of diversity:
- Background of team members (e.g. finance, statistics, economics, etc.)
- Team tasks (e.g. development, implementation, coordination, evaluation)
- Areas of specialty (e.g. innovation, business strategy, mergers and acquisitions, competitive intelligence)
Bringing these different areas of thinking together can help build sustainable and more comprehensive strategies, particularly useful when you’re dealing with ambiguity.
I’ve personally enjoyed working with colleagues from diverse backgrounds as they help me see and think about aspects of a project I wouldn’t have thought otherwise, and vice versa. I’m able to offer my colleagues a different perspective — given my diverse academic and professional background – when it comes to managing cross functional projects and engaging with different areas of the business.
Another great addition to bring into the circle can also be the external perspective. Because corporate strategy teams overlook the whole business, they can provide an outside view, which helps overcome the errors and rigidities in decision making, and provides benchmarking against other best practices.
Fishing for information
It’s very important to be intellectually curious, flexible, and know how to ask questions. There have been a number of times where I was carrying out research and ended up discovering unknown territory beyond what I was initially searching for. However, it’s important to maintain focus as it’s just too easy to get lost in the research and your own thoughts — I know I have! Recently developed apps, such as Mindmeister and iMindMap, can be quite useful in these situations. They have been devised to help people visually map out their ideas so that you can really hone in on your ideas and be able to easily present it.
Less is more
Building on the previous tip, one way businesses often try to develop a strategy is to rely on academic (and/or practical) tools and frameworks such as SWOT, PESTLE, etc. This can, in fact, potentially harm the process of developing a strategy as you become limited in your thinking. I find these tools to be most efficient to categorise or present information. Instead, conversations with key people across the business, brainstorming sessions, and experimentation are more valuable tools that should be employed in a strategy development exercise.
To help simplify the collaborative efforts of everyone, Trello is a productivity tool that I use often. It has been developed to help me stay on top of my to-do list, giving me complete transparency on projects I’m working on from start to finish on the platform.
Build it like Lego
Strategy is a balanced act between depth and breadth. Therefore, one of the most important capabilities (and challenges!) of a strategy team lies in its ability to pull apart a problem to its tiniest bits and pulling it together again as a whole – almost like playing with your favourite Lego piece. Pulling each piece apart often reveals different parts of the puzzle that you can either use or dismiss completely. It also gives the ability to see the root cause of problems, which would not otherwise surface. I often rely on The Minto Pyramid Principle (available as a framework or to download on iOS and Android) to help with this, which has been designed to help organise ideas and logical flow of arguments.
As corporate strategy is quite a cognitive-heavy role, one of the hidden traps is the thinking process could overtake execution. At this point, it’s crucial to design a plan and a roadmap that takes into account not only the future but also how to get there. In most cases, the strategy team may not be the owner of this execution, which could make it difficult to have visibility on requirements. Nevertheless, thinking big, and even engaging and coordinating the right people for execution is an integral part of strategic thinking.
One of the things I’ve learned about working in Vodafone’s Corporate Strategy team is that while you may face all these challenges, it’s always very important to hold the pulse of the organisation by engaging with all areas of the business. This will not only help you paint the big picture of the business and see where you can add the most value, but also will push you towards formulating a better strategy.
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