The six Steps Strategy Explorer
Step 1: What is your strategy about?
Welcome to the first article in a small series on how to use the Strategy Explorer, my new canvas-based method for strategy development. As described earlier, the process of strategy development with the Strategy Explorer consists of six steps and this article will help you to get started and tackle the first one. Of course, the short articles cannot (and shall not) fully replace the book – which is why I recommend reading the book to everybody who wants to gain a deeper understanding and is adept in German language.
Let’s get going
Before starting your work, you obviously need the Strategy Explorer: visit www.strategy-explorer.xyz, download the template and print it in the appropriate format. Choose A4 or A3 if you want to work as an individual, or the B0 poster size if you plan to have a go at it with a team. You will find some practical tips for printing the template in poster size in the Blogsection.
The first step in the actual work with the Strategy Explorer consists in finding a headline and defining the Subject at the heart of the strategy development. Both elements are important as they set the stage for all following steps and therefore have a strong impact on the outcome. Basically, it will be helpful to get clarity on the following three questions:
1. Why do you want to develop a strategy,
2. what do you aim to achieve in general, and
3. what exactly do you want to development a strategy for?
The first question might be relatively easy to answer (maybe your company is facing difficulties in the market, fails to attract skilled workers, your products are being substituted, members are leaving your association, etc.) while the answer to the second might be a bit blurry (which would be OK at this stage in the process). The tricky part, however, could be the third question with an answer that might not be as obvious as expected. The insight you generate is condensed into the fields “Title” and “Subject” in the Strategy Explorer.
The title: find a proper headline!
Of course, a clear headline will help you invite colleagues to your workshop session. More importantly though, the formulation of a proper headline will help focus your work by capturing the core issue and motivation for the process. Therefore, the answers to questions one (why strategy development) and two (what to achieve) will certainly be instructive to find a suitable title for the Strategy Explorer you are going to fill out. Try to formulate it as concisely as possible. High precision is not needed at this point of time, as the headline shall only show the general direction of the strategy development process, without lining out detailed goals and the way to achieve them – these will be clarified later in the process.
Example: if you observe that your company is losing skilled workers to competitors and there are several indicators that this is due to poor working conditions, you might aim to make your company a more attractive employer. A headline in this situation could be “Making X an attractive employer” or “Increase employee attractiveness”. Of course, there might be other reasons why you lose employees, e.g. if they see that your business model is outdated and will become obsolete sooner or later. In such a case, the motivation and headline would be surely different, like “Making X future safe”.
If you do not wish to pre-empt the subsequent analysis and intend to stay maximally open-minded, choose a title which is more focused on the issue and less on a specific solution (like “Future Strategy for X”).
The Subject: what are you developing a strategy for?
While you can well start your strategy development without a proper headline, the definition of the Subject is at the heart of the whole process, as already indicated by the central position of the field in the Strategy Explorer. As shown in the graphic, the Subject consists of an entity (= an organization, person, product, …) and its offering (= product, service, etc.) or value proposition (= problem solving, satisfying needs, etc.).
The definition of the Subject is critical as it will strongly influence the results of your strategy development. In case of an organization (e.g., company X), the offering or value proposition will determine who the competitors of company X are. Example: Company X is producing, say, electric drills. If the offering is just specified as “electric drills (production and sales)”, the company will be in competition with all other firms that produce and sell electric drills for its geographical market. If, in contrast, company X specifies a value proposition like “helping customers to get a hole into the wall”, the competition will look very different and include other players from different fields, like craftsmen or tool rental firms. At the same time, this definition will open the way to think much broader about the future development of the firm and will lead to many more options in the coming process. Typically, the value proposition of an organization is very close to its mission. So if you have a clear mission statement, it may help you derive the value proposition for the whole of the organization.
On a side note: Using the Strategy Explorer, you can also quickly develop strategies for hypothetical Subjects, in the form of “what if” scenarios.
E.g., if you slightly tweak your existing situation (selling drills) to a potential new situation (helping to make holes), you can use the Strategy Explorer to map the changed environment and derive conclusions and promising courses of action (later steps in the process).
The Strategy Explorer is applicable for a variety of subjects and is not limited to companies. A subject at the center of the strategy development could also be other organizations (like associations), a person (e.g., for career development or freelance strategy), a product (go to market strategy) or even something as abstract as a process. The strategy development will work as long as there are alternatives and external factors outside your own control influencing the subject, see my previous article.
A clear understanding of the subject of your strategy development forms the foundation of all following considerations. It is also an excellent start for the discussion in the strategy team in order to be truly aligned.
However, if you get stuck in the discussion of the subject or experience difficulties in formulating a precise definition: move forward nonetheless. Try to go with the key principle of consent decision making: is the definition “good enough for now and safe enough to try”? If so, head on and revisit the subject later for more precise specification. In the following process of analysis, you may have new insights and will probably quickly gain the clarity you need. All steps in the Strategy Explorer process are reversible, i.e., it is fine (and sometimes even required) to jump forward and backward. At the end of the day, the full picture is more important than how straightforward you arrived there.
Just go ahead
If you already started with the first step, you may wish to continue with the next steps right away. In principle, the Strategy Explorer is almost self- explanatory and you can damage nothing by simply starting to work with it. So give it a try, wait for the next articles, or – if feasible – check out the book for quick instructions. If you already plan a workshop and need support, just give me a hint.
I wish you a good start with the Strategy Explorer! Feel free to let me know your experiences and also what you would like to read about the Strategy Explorer in my next articles.
Step 2: What is your Goal?
Strategy development needs a clear goal – otherwise, it will be difficult to devise the proper way to achieve, well, what exactly? By definition, a strategy is a long-term plan to achieve a specific goal. There are other definitions, but this is the simple, common denominator. Therefore, before devising a strategy, a goal needs to be specified. This is step 2 in the process with the Strategy Explorer.
When thinking about the goal, this means that you need to make up your mind about Vision and Mission, two well-known notions in the world of strategy. Despite these two words themselves are quite famous, their meaning is often interpreted differently, leading to vision and mission being mixed up or even swapped. Nonetheless, both elements are important for strategy development. For our purposes, we will go with the following distinction:
Vision: a picture of the future from today’s perspective.
Mission: the purpose of your subject (company, etc.), the reason why it exists.
In strategy development, the mission provides the general direction in which to move – like a north star that points the way but will never be reached. In contrast, the vision depicts a concrete future at a given point of time (e.g., five, ten or more years into the future) and specifies the overarching goals that you strive to achieve. While the vision can change to reflect certain developments, the mission of an organization is typically deeply ingrained and should be valid over a long period of time.
A simple example: If you are, say, a non-profit organization striving to “provide medical aid to the poor” (your mission), this will provide guidance for all strategic decisions. The people working in your organization ideally identify themselves with that mission and want to help fulfill it. Therefore, it will be difficult to change the mission substantially without exchanging or slowly transforming your organization. On the other hand, your vision might be that in the year X you will be able to serve Y percent of a certain population and everybody knows your organization. This vision provides goals to be achieved come the year X and can of course be adapted.
Surely, a strategy can be developed without meticulously specifying the own mission, but clarifying the purpose of an organization helps a lot. It will be both useful for the motivation of the employees as well as for communication with the outside world. As it provides guidance for all strategic decisions, it should not be formulated too narrowly. Indeed, a good mission leaves enough room to think broadly about the future development of, e. g., an organization, while at the same time helping to decide what not (!) to do. An excellent example in this context is the original mission of Walt Disney: “to make people happy.” It did not specify the production of cartoons and movies or the opening of theme parks.
Instead, all these possible activities bring the mission to life and there is still room for a fruitful further development. Ideally, the mission statement is not just a nice sounding “marketing” phrase, but really describes the purpose of an organization. It should be authentic and motivating and the employees should be proud to use it to explain what the company they work for is doing (Collins & Porras).
If you already have a ready-made mission statement for your part of the organization, simply copy it into the field “Mission” on the Strategy Explorer. If you have to create one from scratch, one way would be to first have everybody on the team write down his or her take on the mission statement separately. Then find out which of the statements resonate most with the team and try to condense these favored statements into a new, single one.
As described earlier, the vision is a picture of the future from today’s perspective. This can be taken quite literally: In order to motivate people, it helps to have a clear picture in everybody’s mind showing what has to be achieved. An excellent example for such a picture is the proverbial “man on the moon”, as mentioned by President John F. Kennedy in his famous 1US1 speech: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” This way, he provided an excellent vision for NASA. At the same time, this formulation fulfills all criteria for being a SMART goal, including timing. Especially, it is sufficiently ambitious to qualify as visionary (not exactly a safe bet).
Typically, the vision of the future is a complex picture that can cover a number of different aspects: how does the future look like, how have we helped to make it real, how do we fare in this future, how does our organization look like, how do we work, etc. Of course, this has to be focused and narrowed down to a few relevant, overarching goals for communication and effective strategy development. I often work with organizations to actually create a rich picture of the future and use this to distill the essence and derive clear goals. This way, they are much easier to identify than by trying to formulate them from the top of the hat. If you do not have sufficient time for a dedicated vision workshop, try to dream up the future of your subject by aggregating the individual input of the team members, e. g. by means of brainwriting with subsequent collection, discussion and clustering of the notes. This way, you will quickly create an ad hoc picture (not literally) of the future that should contain the relevant overarching goals.
Once you have identified these overarching goals: enter them into the “Vision” field on the Strategy Explorer. Typically these are only a few adhesive notes which might read “we are market leader in X”, “everybody knows us for our Y”, “we have subsidiaries on every continent”, “we have won the ‘great place to work’ award”, etc.
Do not underestimate
If you are in the lucky position that you are developing a strategy for an entity with ready-made and available vision and mission statements, it is easy to transfer them to the Strategy Explorer, maybe with slight modifications or adaptations. However, this is seldom the case. If you are, e. g, developing a strategy for a department within a larger company, you will need to create your own vision and mission that fits to both the department and supports the overall vision and mission of the company.
However this may be, the work on vision and mission should not be underestimated. It is important to get at least the vision sufficiently right before you start into the strategy development process. The vision is leading the thoughts for the whole process, therefore all the subsequent work might be in vain when you start off with the wrong goal. In other words, if it takes you longer as expected to agree on a common vision, take your time.
On the other hand, if you have the vision already essentially right, do not waste your time by bickering over words or formulations. This is not a marketing exercise. As long as everybody in the team understands what the goal is and it is reasonably well formulated, you can start into the next stages of the strategy development.
Have a fun and fruitful workshop with the Strategy Explorer working on your vision and mission! For all German-speaking readers, I recommend to consult my book “Strategy Explorer – das Strategiewerkzeug für Teams”, as it will go into more detail on vision and mission and provide a number of examples for inspiration. Feel free to let me know your experiences and also what you would like to read about the Strategy Explorer in my next articles.
Step 3: Mapping the outside world
Whether you are a start-up with a brand new product, a well-established company in a seemingly stable market or a sports club facing changing social trends – no organization or other subject is independent of the developments in the outside world. Every possible subject is embedded in a certain environment and almost always influenced by external forces outside its own control. This especially holds true in business, for example when the own goals are in conflict with those of other market participants. A simple example for this would be two or more companies striving for dominance in the same market segment: the fight will be much harder than on uncontested ground – the opponents will probably not just give way but rather resort to more or less ingenious measures the others will have to deal with. Therefore, it is important to understand the structure of the environment and the important influencing factors: who are the players and forces, what is the current situation and which trends or developments can be identified? Only if the external conditions and their potential development are sufficiently understood, a promising strategy can be developed to successfully reach the overall goal.
In the Strategy Explorer, the Subject field is located within a larger circular area representing the environment. This larger field is named “Situation & Trends” and forms the space where you collect the relevant observations and developments that characterize the environment of your subject.
In order to help you create a picture that contains various perspectives, the environment field is structured according to five categories, as described in the following list.
Competitors, Alternatives: Competitors of the analyzed organization or alternatives to the offering provided. Content: Current competitors (or groups of competitors) and alternatives, potential new entrants.
Customers, Users: Customers of an organization, buyers and users of the offering in question. Content: Specific observations and larger sociocultural trends: important customers or customer segments, situation and relevant developments/trends (e.g., buying behavior, supplier strategies, values, preferences, demography, living conditions, income), …
Partners: Cooperation partners who help bring the business model to life. Content: Relevant partners (e.g., suppliers, service providers, distributors), situation and expected developments regarding the partners (e.g., working climate, dependencies, efficiency), …
Technology: Technological state of the art and future development.
Content: Existing and already employed technologies, new technologies (intellectual property rights, market readiness, substitution trends, …), (un-)expected developments, news from science and research, …
Industry & Environment: Situation and important developments in the industry and the larger environment (politics, economy, ecology, legal). Content: Industry structure, consolidation trends, location, resources, growth, economy, specific regulations, legal requirements, ecological requirements, certification, sustainability, globalization, labor market, …
While comparing your own organization with others in the same context will help to identify strengths and weaknesses, the assessment of relevant observations and developments in the environment will lead to the identification of opportunities and threats. Therefore, the category “Competition, Alternatives” is placed on the left side of the Strategy Explorer, close to the fields “Strengths” and “Weaknesses”, while the other categories are found on the right hand side, leading to the fields “Opportunities” and “Threats”.
Focus on the relevant aspects
Obviously, the environment field in the Strategy Explorer is far too small to perform a full-fledged environment analysis and collect every detail here. Instead, it is important to discover and capture the most important facts and developments for the subject of your strategy development. This means that you need to focus and leave out less relevant information or secondary developments. As an example, specific regulations like FDA approval procedures are highly relevant for businesses active in drug development, while being irrelevant for most other endeavors. Which change in end-user behavior will have the most immediate or direct impact on the viability of your new product and which ones are less relevant? If you are not already reasonably clear about the most important influencing factors for your business, I recommend to have an open discussion in a diverse team and let it be inspired by the list of keywords in the list above. This discussion is also useful if you feel pretty sure about your factors as it might bring new, unexpected insights.
A general tip: if you come up with overwhelmingly many observations, try to first collect them on a separate pin-board or wall and prioritize before transferring the most important ones into the Strategy Explorer.
When entering information into the „Situation & Trends“ field, I recommend to place the observations of the current situation close to the center and the expected developments rather towards the outside. This will help you construct logical chains in preparation of the next step, the SWOT analysis.
For example, when I applied the Strategy Explorer to my own consulting business, an important observation in the area of customers was the fact that many companies‘ budgets for workshops and travel are being further reduced. I had placed my targeted customer groups close to the center of the field and noted the budget and travel trends towards the outside. In addition, I captured the continuing trend of virtualization of meetings, especially when working internationally, and placed it in the Technology area. As workshops are an important part of my work, these developments are relevant and need to be addressed. Both can be threats or opportunities – depending how they are dealt with. For me, the development of electronic alternatives and options would be the positive way to go. The logical chain of argumentation from the center to the outside is easily visible and comprehensible if the notes are placed in the described sequence into the Strategy Explorer.
When you are discussing and filling in the relevant observations, you might already have ideas about how to deal with these. They might lead you directly to ideas for the next step, the SWOT analysis. If you have a logical sequence in your mind already, like the following observation > expected development > opportunity,
I recommend to note the opportunity immediately instead of waiting for the environment analysis to be completed first. Otherwise you might lose an important thought. It is OK to jump in the Strategy Explorer process and follow your intuition!
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, describing the “SWOT – Now what?” step. If you need more information, get hold of the book (in German), visit strategy-explorer.xyz for more articles or contact me directly!
Step 4: From Observations to Actions
Without a clear understanding of the environment we would be in the dark and business success just a question of luck. Therefore, I hope you had many fruitful discussions and inspiring insights in the previous step of analyzing the environment using the Strategy Explorer. However, analysis without conclusions will bring you nowhere. Consequently, it is now time to make sense of your observations and assumptions and to develop the first building blocks to accomplish your vision.
A central tool for this task is the SWOT analysis. It is one of the best known tools in strategy development, the acronym standing for strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O) and threats (T). The SWOT analysis is an excellent tool to interpret your observations and structure your thoughts according to the potential implications for your subject matter. It therefore constitutes a core element in the Strategy Explorer method. Here, it is combined with the important step of driving conclusions, the “Now What?” question. Without the latter, the analysis would remain just an analysis.
A meaningful SWOT analysis
Over the years, I have encountered plenty of SWOT analyses exhibiting a grossly different level of quality. How come? The principle of the SWOT is quite simple in general, but there are a few things one needs to consider in order to generate relevant insights. First, let’s have a look at what information belongs into the S, W, O and T fields (formulated for an organization as subject):
Strengths and weaknesses are of internal nature. For example, a poor website or marketing approach is clearly within the own responsibility and could be improved. A comprehensive own patent portfolio would be an excellent asset to build a strong competitive position and could be even reinforced. Strengths and weaknesses lie in the present, they are what we can use or have to deal with today.
In contrast, opportunities and threats are presented through the outside world. They are based on the situation and developments in the environment which can usually not be controlled. For example, a change in regulations might endanger a certain product line or changing end-user behavior might open up a realm of new possibilities. Opportunities and threats typically lie in the (nearer) future.
In practice, SWOT analyses are often conducted without much preparation and without a clear definition of the subject at the center of the analysis, leading to less than optimal results. In order to produce relevant insights, a SWOT analysis should be based on a solid understanding of the environment and a clear agreement on the subject itself (“are we preparing a SWOT for our business unit or for the whole company?”). Having the overall goal present at all times further helps to focus on the observations and findings that will help you to get closer to that goal. Apart from that, a really honest comparison with relevant competitors or alternatives needs to be conducted in order to arrive at the real strengths and weaknesses of the subject. For example, a weakness that all competitors have in common is not a true weakness. Of course, not all strengths and weaknesses have to be fully unique, but they should distinguish the subject from at least the majority of competitors or alternatives.
Typically, the contents in the SWOT fields describe the situation and do not yet contain the activities or measures needed to deal with these situations. This reasoning is the central point in the next step.
For each and every finding of the SWOT analysis, it is important to decide how to deal with it:
How can the strengths be used and even be improved? How can the weaknesses be eliminated or reduced?
How can the opportunities be best exploited? How can the risks be ameliorated?
It is important that every finding in the SWOT analysis corresponds to at least one entry in the “Now what?” field. If you have a finding that does not call for any action, it is probably not a relevant one.
The answers to the “Now what?” question can be of different type, like concrete measures or activities, more general action fields or qualitative goals. Typically, they will range from operative stuff to real strategic options, i.e., large and decisive steps towards your overarching goal. In this part of the process, you should pay attention not to dive too deeply into the operative level of affairs. Try to maintain a certain flight level and focus on the bigger steps that could be undertaken to exploit opportunities, eliminate weaknesses, and so forth. Make sure that you formulate them briefly while being precise enough so that they could be even understood by somebody not present during the process.
Connecting the dots
Clearly, a certain line of reasoning stands behind each of the conclusions in the “Now what?” field. Such logical chains might look like shown in the diagram and connect the subject of your strategy with certain observations that lead to one or more conclusions on which you might decide to act. The Strategy Explorer makes these lines of reasoning visible from start to end.
The major conclusions from the SWOT analysis that are now collected in the “Now what?” fields form the major source of input for the next step in the process: the identification and assessment of strategic options and objectives in the field “Big Steps”.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of this small article series to learn how to come up with a good base of options and big measures that could form the basis of your future strategy. As always, do not hesitate to contact me in case you have questions or comments!
Step 5: Big Steps (into the right direction…)
How can we reach our overarching goals and make our vision reality? Good question, and not that easy to answer. A strategy describes a way to achieve a specific goal. And in most cases, there are different ways to reach this goal, each consisting of big steps that could bring you closer.
Some of these big steps are exclusive (i.e., you can do one or the other, but not both), while others can be readily combined. Before we can conclude on the most promising way forward, we must first identify and consider the alternatives – at least as many as we can conceive. This is the fifth step in the Strategy Explorer process: deriving and prioritizing Big Steps in the form of strategic options and objectives.
Identifying Big Steps
In the Strategy Explorer, the field “Big Steps: Strategic Options and Objectives” is used to first collect the potential steps that will bring you closer to the goals lined out in your vision. In principle, this is an ideation exercise that builds on the previous work and can be enriched with additional out-of-the-box thinking. The content you will be looking for are qualitative goals, measures and action fields of sufficiently strategic level. The insight required can be generated by three different ways, as described in the graphic.
In the previous “SWOT – Now what?” step, you probably came up with plenty of activities and goals that could or should be undertaken to achieve the given goals. This is the main source of input for the Big Steps. However, as this input consists of items of various granularity – from minor operative stuff up to really strategic moves – a step of filtering, consolidating and clustering is required. The truly strategic moves can be directly copied to the Big Steps field (make sure not to simply move the adhesive notes form the upper to the lower part of the poster: write new notes in order to keep the picture intact). The “smaller” items might belong to specific action fields that are important and should be included in the Big Steps in a newly formulated manner. Finally, there will probably be items which are important, but are not at a level to constitute a relevant big step for your potential future strategy: they are important and should be taken care of, but later and elsewhere, so they will not be transferred into the Big Steps field.
A second approach to identify big steps involves systematically combining the insights generated in the SWOT fields with each other: How can the strengths be used to exploit certain opportunities or to ameliorate or avoid the risks? How can weaknesses be overcome by grabbing one of the opportunities, and which weaknesses need to be addressed in order to be protected from the threats?
The third, rather intuitive approach consists in free ideation, focused on the question “what do we really need to do to make our vision a reality?” In order for this to work, it is essential to take a step back from the detailed work from before to regard the complete picture. If you manage to get yourself and your team into a creative state of mind, this approach can lead to inspiring out-of-the box ideas. Be aware that a healthy dose of open-mindedness is required, as the ideas generated here might contain strategic moves which are radical and surprising. This is exactly the stuff you should be looking for. If you manage to project yourself into the future as lined out by your vision and take a look back, you might identify the required steps to get there without the constraints of your current day-to- day work. This is called “backcasting” by futurologists.
Prioritization and selection
Now we are getting into the harder phase of the process. Harder, because all previous steps had to do with analyzing and ideating – nobody hurt, yet. By prioritizing the big steps, i.e. the strategic options and objectives, the entrepreneurial decision for a certain strategy is prepared. You will need to make up your mind now which options should be considered for the final strategy and which ones should be ignored.
As a team that has sufficient acumen in the line of business you are pursuing, and after all the previous discussions, you should have a certain idea which options would be the relevant ones. Therefore, the field “Big Steps” in the Strategy Explorer provides a linear scale to prioritize your options:
Right hand side: yes, should be done! Middle: maybe, or not now…
Left hand side: no, rather not.
Of course, this linear scale is based on intuitively assessing and compounding various parameters. If you are not sure, you can use an additional step – outside the Strategy Explorer – to get the prioritization right. Typically, strategic options are weighed in a relative manner according to the parameters of suitability (to achieve the overarching goal), feasibility and acceptance (by stakeholders). Therefore, it makes sense to prepare a flip chart or moderation paper with a coordinate system (suitability vs. feasibility). Place your options in this coordinate system and re-arrange them until you are satisfied with the resulting picture. The most promising options should be found in the upper right corner. However, acceptance has still to be discussed: even the apparently most suitable and feasible option can lead to disaster if it faces a severe acceptance problem.
As soon as you have identified the most promising big steps, you are close to finalizing your strategy. However, you may want to further substantiate the viability of the preferred options, especially if they encompass massive change or are not sufficiently under your own control.
In the next article we will be discussing the final step of formulating the most promising way forward. I wish you good ideas, productive discussions and a clear picture regarding the preferable options to reach your vision! Do not hesitate to contact me in case of questions and comments – I am happy to learn about your individual experiences with the Strategy Explorer.
Step 6: Strategy Formulation
Did you ever ask employees of an organization about its strategy? You might be surprised by the variety of answers – although all work for the same employer. Ideally, everyone working in an organization should have a common understanding of the overarching goals and how to generally accomplish them – only then, everybody can contribute in the best possible way. Of course, not everybody needs to know all details, but it helps when the essence is understood. For that, you need a clear story.
And to create that story, you first need clarity about the way forward and to formulate it crisply and to the point. This is the sixth and final step of the Strategy Explorer process and its outcome will be an excellent basis for implementation and communication.
Decide on the Way Forward
The formulation of the strategy as the most promising way forward requires some entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and abstraction. It consists of one or more of the preferred options identified in the previous working phase („Big Steps“) where you prioritized the available alternatives. Now, an entrepreneurial decision is required to create and pursue the route you really wish to take.
If you have a choice of suitable options which are mutually exclusive, you will need to decide about which alternative to take. Possibly, the final decision will involve further analysis and discussions outside the group you have assembled in your strategy workshop. However, in most cases you will be able to recognize the best alternative based on the accumulated knowledge and experience in the room.
In case the preferred options and big steps are not exclusive, your way forward can be based on a sound selection of steps which harmonize well and help you achieve your vision.
Collect the essential steps for your strategy in the field named „Strategy“ in the Strategy Explorer (see image). Do not move your notes from the „Big Steps“ field, but write them anew – in a reformulated or more aggregated way, if required.
Formulate a Strategy Sentence
Now you need to climb to the next level of flight altitude to put everything into perspective. When asked about your strategy, people are typically not interested in a 15 minute speech. Instead, you need to communicate briefly and to the point – like in an elevator pitch. Ideally, a strategy can be formulated in one or two sentences, as shown in the following template: “We achieve our vision (=?) by doing X, Y, and Z (short list).”
Here, “short list” names the major measures or objectives that describe the chosen strategic path. The list might contain a few items, like about three, or even consist of just one very central and crucial point. You can see this step as a further filtering stage after the “Big Steps” phase that leaves you with the essence of your strategy. In order to produce a concise formulation, some creativity and abstraction is required: identify the essential steps and combine them to a comprehensible logic. It might be necessary to cluster individual aspects that contribute to the same objective or action field: Let’s assume you have realized that your company needs an influx of new talent to stay competitive and several of your identified Big Steps contribute to this objective, like “launch employer branding campaign”, “intensify social media recruiting”, and “more resources for HR”. Then, the essential ingredient for your story would be “active recruiting of new talents” rather than a list of the individual measures.
After you have distilled the essential steps, you need to bring them into a comprehensible order. The following strategy sentence is an example that is formulated according to the template:
“We will be the leading provider of low-cost XY in the market by massively expanding our production facilities in Indonesia, qualifying alternative suppliers and consistently switching to digital sales channels.”
In a very concise but comprehensible way, this lines out the overarching goal and the crucial steps to achieve it.
Quick-test the Strategy Sentence
Formulating the strategy sentence is not that easy and it will certainly take a few attempts to nail it down. However, a simple and effective test for the strategy sentence is to simply vocalize in the workshop: just say it out loud! This way, you will quickly see whether it sounds comprehensible and you feel good with the result:
Is the sentence comprehensible, consistent and credible? Does it sound authentic?
Does it make clear what needs to be achieved and done? Does the described way feel right and feasible
Does it have the right flight altitude, i.e., is it really strategic? Can the statement be easily memorized?
If you are convinced that your selected way forward will be successful and you can recite the strategy sentence convincingly to yourself and the team, you have already accomplished a lot. Of course, in many cases, you will need further research, analyses and discussions to ascertain the viability, but the general direction and the potential alternatives are clear now.
With the concise strategy sentence, you have formulated the strategy at a high level. For implementation, strategic objectives need to be laid out in more detail, typically as the basis for action plans or in the form of OKR to get things done. In this phase, you might still discover that the overall strategy is not viable without adjustments because of deeper insights or unexpected obstacles. In this case, you need to take a step back and check or develop other promising options.
The elaboration of the details and the implementation of the strategy are not part of the work with the Strategy Explorer – this is done subsequently using standard methods. The purpose of the Strategy Explorer is to help you recognize the most promising way to achieve your vision and to have it clearly formulated on a high level. This is the basis for a successful implementation and communication of your strategy.
Therefore, if you ask the employees of your organization about its strategy and the answer is unambiguous and correct, you did it right. I hope that your work with the Strategy Explorer will (or already did) help you to achieve this result. I wish you a lot of inspiration, fruitful discussions, and finally great success in developing the right strategies using the Strategy Explorer. Please let me know about your experiences – and feel free to contact me if you need advice or support!