But Strategy Is Best When Practiced
by Jeremy Nulik
A lot of us are still in collective survival mode. For us as leaders, it can seem that -- just when there’s reason to hope -- another unforeseen, unknowable, unprecedented change occurs. In this context, looking passively for opportunities is not a winning, long-term strategy. Even the smallest disruption can be demoralizing. How can you activate a strategic rather than a reactive posture?
Start by reframing your concept of strategy.
In pre-COVID days, strategy was the plan. These two elements are often synonymous. If you have ever been a part of a strategic planning process, then you have experienced what seems like a lengthy process resulting in a list of goals (nee New Year’s Resolutions) and how you plan to attain them.
Today, that kind of goal setting is disjointed from the volatile reality. It’s like a young boy (or girl) whistling in the dark to keep his spirits up. You can do your best to will the plan into being, but in reality the power to fuel the plan, to execute on “the how,” simply is not there.
A way to access the necessary collective energy to overcome survival inertia is to game your future with the humans who are most aligned with your vision. You do not have to have a process for creating formal plans. What you need is a formal process for interpreting possibility.
An infinite number of tools exist for such formal processes. All you need to do is to google terms such as “Strategyzer” or “Gamestorming” to see the myriad possibilities. However, a good place to start is with an established foresight technique called Driver Mapping. The process takes less than an hour. The outputs are a series of the “drivers for change” for your organization. Think of the process as a formal brainstorm and priority session.
Here’s how the process might look:
1. Gather trusted stakeholders and reveal the framework for identifying drivers for change. A common framework is PESTLE (i.e., Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental drivers), so start there.
2. Depending on the number of people in the room, you can assign different categories to groups or work through the categories together in an informal conversation. Spend no more than five minutes on each category. Ask participants about what is changing in your network as relates to these six categories. What are political (local, state, national) changes that impact us? What is changing in the economy? And so on.
3. Once you have gathered input regarding the six categories, group the responses into larger themes. These themes are “drivers,” and they usually include increases or decreases in something. Give these themes a name, for example, “increased economic growth in our county.”
4. Rate the drivers on level of importance to your organization and collective certainty about them. You can use a scale like 1 to 10 (1 = Least, 10 = Most).
5. Create priorities for your next gathering based on importance of the drivers for change.
Here’s the thing. Some drivers may need attention, action, and monitoring. Others may be actively ignored. No matter the priority, you will be intentionally working to take on uncertainty, and, because you went to your stakeholders, you will have fuel for taking strategic action.
Practicing this process is more important than getting things right. Establishing a habit (and the discipline) to pursue it will pay off in ways that may not seem obvious. But today’s reality does not allow for the obvious.
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.