The Eight Tough Questions to Ask About Your Company’s Strategy

Dec 29, 2017

The Eight Tough Questions to Ask About Your Company’s Strategy

One thing about the New Year that we can be sure of is that there will be change. The marketplace, where we work, our own personal goals, and resolutions can put us in a state of flux and unknown.

If your company is changing and you’re leading the charge, you want to be sure to bring everyone with you. In this article you can pick up some tips on how to get a better grip on where you are, where you’re going, and how to communicate the plan with everyone on the team.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, authors Paul Leinwand and Matthias Bäumler, both of PwC’s Strategy Consulting Business, suggest that many firms lack clarity internally on what their strategy is for achieving market dominance. Here’s what they say: “Companies often fail to address the tough questions about strategy and execution: Are we really clear, as a leadership team, about how we choose to create value in the marketplace? Can we articulate the few things the organization needs to do better than anyone else in order to deliver on that value proposition? Are we investing in those areas, and do they fit with most of the products and services we sell?”

The Eight Fundamental Questions

The authors feel that these fundamental questions are not asked because some in management may feel that they would be viewed as being overly critical, that the time for questions is long past, or they may be reluctant to ask because it would expose one’s own personal weakness or lack of understanding. Working in branding I’ve noticed that many firms don’t roll out their strategy or open it up for debate or communications because the train has already left the station, meaning that the track has been laid and they can’t waist time on wondering if they are going in the right direction. In that scenario, the people on the train remain helpless to understand their mission or destination. This lack of coherence and understanding is reflected in the following chart:

Of course many companies ask these questions at the very beginning of their annual planning sessions and open the door for new insights and conversations. These companies benefit by being honest about what’s really happening in the marketplace. Having an updated competitive analysis is the best catalyst for developing the proper positioning for the brand moving forward. The authors suggest three tactics that might be employed to help leadership better drive strategic goals and opportunities:

1. Build in a process for the executive team to discuss these fundamental questions.

The process doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. It could be an off-site discussion where leadership open the floor for discussion and helps the team reach agreement on the fundamentals. An internal survey can also net positive input. The key here is that the top leadership has to be open to suggestions and the executive team needs to voice their concerns.

2. Involve a larger part of the organization in a discussion on how the company is doing on strategy and execution.

I personally am a big fan of this approach because it generates feedback from team members that are rarely asked but have excellent insights into product or customer behavior that management needs to hear. One way to do this is to conduct internal workshops where the strategy is shared and explained and its strength is debated. Feedback from the folks on the line working directly with the customer almost always presents surprises and insights into the correctness of the plan that the culture in executing. To better determine the existing status, the authors suggest using PwC’s Strategy Profiler. It takes just a little time for the test and can provide good information.

3. A third tactic is to get the board more involved.

“Instead of the old practice of merely reviewing the company’s strategy, the board could set up a structured process with management to talk about strategy and the linkages to execution.” This is great, especially for start-ups that need the broader and objective perspective of its Directors. Founders are very often “in the weeds” with the business and could benefit from fresh and relevant insights.

In the end, these 8 questions may not really be that tough at all. What’s tough is finding the best venue to get the debate going. Once communication is flowing, everything else falls into place.

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