The Best Answer to “What’s Your Strategy?”

I like to ask CEOs what their business strategy is.  Sometimes I get a crisp, clear response, but often the answer either is a bunch of words without clarity, or something along the lines of “We have a whole strategy…it’s in our strategy document.”  If you want your organization to be sharply-focused on delivering your strategy, and to be fully engaged and energized to make it happen, then you need to have a very clear strategy statement–one that you can repeat, and can easily be repeated by others.

There are a number of ways to do this, even for very large and complex organizations.  Here are three examples:

  1. Concise strategy statement:  “Our goal is ________, and we’ll accomplish that by focusing on two things: _________ and __________.”
  2. Rallying cry:
    • Canon: “Beat Xerox”
    • Komatsu: “Encircle Caterpillar”
    • Nike: “Just Do It.”
  3. Strategic theme:
    • Wegmans: “Every Day You Get Our Best”
    • General Electric: “We’ll be #1 or #2 in every business”
    • FedEx: “Absolutely, positively overnight.”

These approaches are very common with large companies, and they are not just marketing slogans — many, if not most, were developed primarily for employees.  I have seen CEOs effectively use all of these at all levels of organizations.  There are two keys to using these effectively:  First, make sure the statement is unambiguously clear.  You may have to provide explanations or context, especially when first using the statement.  Jack Welch provided clear and cogent reasoning behind his strategy statements, especially during his frequent visits to management development sessions–people knew that #1 or #2 meant that if a business didn’t achieve that status, GE would sell it off.  Second, use the statement over and over and over again, not just once or twice.  Show people that you are being both focused and consistent.

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