Experience. It is the one thing that cannot be taught. The very nature of the word negates teaching and coaching. Now, one can learn from and trust in experience but experience is something that must be, well, experienced. When I sit down to write, I’m writing from all of the things I’ve learned and then the application of those things through the sieve of experience.
It’s an important thing to understand when hiring a consultant or a coach. Has your coach been through the fire? Make sure your coach has had a handful of failures along with the successes. Real world experience is far more valuable than the ability to recite quotes from the hottest trending author. After many years of doing business I decided to go back to school and complete my education. I completed a degree in Project Management and went on to collect an MBA with an emphasis on leadership.
Of all of my experiences, the one that comes to mind most was the constant revelation of “oh, that’s what that is called.” It turns out that a large percentage of what was being taught I already knew, did the experiment, and got the worn out t-shirt. I just didn’t know what some academic type had decided to call the thing that I had been doing for years.
I see a bunch of this going on in the digital space. Thankfully, the alphabet is only 26 letters long or I’m sure we’d have more and more acronyms to describe some spectacularly thought out qsuedo-name for something people have been doing for a long time. Take for instance KPI which stands for Key Performance Indicators. It’s really the answer to the question “How’s it going?” It also makes simple the idea that not every performance has equal value…some of them are “key”.
An activity that has been around for years (and often talked about at universities and larger corporations) is the idea of strategy. In smaller organizations, particularly small owned-and-operated businesses, I have noticed a great absence of a discussion or implementation of a strategy. It is a subject forbidden in most small businesses.
And why not?! Strategy is daunting. Strategy requires thought and assumptions and the idea of more risk. Developing a strategy does not make the cash register ring today. Strategies require time to develop. Strategies require patience. Strategies require faith. Strategy development is hard there is no doubt.
A dictionary definition of strategy will likely start with the concept that strategy is a plan to achieve an aim followed by definitions of strategy to win battles in wartime. These definitions, in my experience, are also where larger organizations miss the mark on strategy.
Here are some thoughts that I use when developing strategies for various companies. These easy-to-understand guide posts help keep me focused on creating an effective and unique instrument for a business to execute.
My Definition… with an action sidebar: Strategy is a path through circumstances to achieve a specific goal. When conditions change the strategy mutates to accommodate the changing circumstances.
It also helps me to keep a list of things a strategy is not. The “not this” list refines the strategy and avoids deadends and potholes along the way.
Strategy is not:
- A goal
- A tactic
- A program
- An off-the-shelf package purchased online or at a big box store
A goal is the end of the rainbow for the strategy. If the strategic plan works then the goal is achieved. I have had business owners tell me something like “our strategy is to be Number One in sales.” That’s a goal and you’ll need a really good strategy to get there because whoever is currently Number One probably already has a pretty good strategy.
Tactics are often mentioned in the same sentence or paragraph with strategy. The two are easy to confuse because both have a similar function. Each is goal oriented. I have a Doc Definition of tactic that helps guide: Tactics push on the edges of circumstances to keep the strategy on a solid path to the goal.
A radio station programmer introduced me to the proper use of goals, strategies, and tactics long ago. I’m fairly certain that his efforts were natural and/or coincidental but I have used them for years to help bring clarity to the interworking of these three elements.
In those days the competition for being the first to play the next big hit was paramount. Without the internet, introduction of new music was only through radio stations. Not only that, the station that could pick the hits and play the most favorite music was usually declared the winner. All stations had similar goals that usually ended with… #1. Each would present a unique version of the best personalities, the longest sets of music, the most up-to-date traffic reports, or the most community involvement — in an effort to achieve that Number One status.
My programmer would play this little game with his competitor. Most stations would add their music on a particular day because those same stations would have to report to national trade magazines the following day. Leading up to that day, my programmer friend would begin to play a song that he was absolutely convinced was a stone-cold stiff. Knowing that his competitor was continually monitoring him, he would play it just enough for the competitor to hear it. On many occasions the competitor would take the bait and add the song the next day for fear that he might miss out on the next big thing. My friend would end up never playing the song while the competitor would play it for weeks.
So which was strategy, which was tactic, and what was goal? The goal is easy to pick out. The programmer wanted to be Number One in the ratings. The strategy was in placing personalities, the longest sets of music, the most traffic reports, or the community involvement in ways that brought superior value against the conditions in the market (circumstances). The tactic of baiting the competitor was pushing on the circumstance of the quality of the competitor’s strategy. The tactic had a mini strategy and goal but served the larger strategy in keeping a wide path for success.
Planning an effective strategy is a joy and will tax your brain in the most amazing and beneficial ways. Successfully executing a strategy is a pleasure as well but that’s not the end. Once the goal is achieved, a new goal is set with a new strategy and a whole new set of tactics.