What is (and isn’t) strategy?

Sometimes a strategy fails because it’s a poor strategy. Other times, it fails because it’s not really a strategy at all.

What exactly are the attributes of a strategy — and how does strategy differ from other measures implemented to help an organization achieve goals? Dr. Alok Tewari, Vice President of Operations Strategy and Execution, uncovers the answer to this question and many more. 

Alok has leveraged over 20 years of experience in strategy and global business transformations to cultivate an understanding of organizational goals and the multilayered approach to developing strategy within a variety of industries.

Strategy is different for every organization

Strategy means something different to everybody and every organization. 

Many times, strategies aren’t really strategies — they’re ideas and plans. So what is the best way to differentiate between a solid strategy and something else? 

First and foremost, a strategy should be specific and actionable. 

“Strategy is something an organization creates to attain specific goals. It’s not one size fits all — strategy can be operational, data, technology, marketing or sales strategy — but every strategy needs to try to attain a specific goal,” Alok says. 

Although the two often become confused, a strategy is not a project plan or project management — it’s much bigger than that. 

Strategy enters into the realm of the unknown and questions what can be accomplished and what cannot as well as how success or progress can and will be defined. 

Determining and honing in on your best strategies

There are a few core reasons why any organization exists. Customer success and revenue generation are two of them.

In order to achieve customer success, organizations also need and want to make money, and they do so using their own guiding principles. 

To turn these principles into a strong strategy, leaders should work backward and create multiple kinds of strategies — whether sales, marketing, behind-the-scenes operations or any revenue generation product or technology — and focus on aligning them with other departmental strategies for the best effect. 

That being said, it’s also important not to get bogged down with too many potential strategies, or else you risk all of them failing. 

So, how do you find a good balance? Long answer short, it depends. 

Oftentimes, the number of strategies any one organization can take on is related to their vantage point. For example, a startup may need to focus on a single strategy at a time whereas a more established organization may have the knowledge and resources, such as a larger budget, to handle two or three new strategies at the same time. 

“What I have personally experienced is, if I’m working with any more than three core areas, my focus tends to get diluted. I reassure myself that there are three areas I’m working in, and everything else is tactical operational tasks that just need to happen,” Alok says. 

Separating operational aspects from strategic aspects

Outside of identifying the number of things that are important to strategize, it’s also imperative to find a way to separate operational aspects from strategic aspects.

The process of separation requires leaders and teams to take a step back and sift through operational aspects — things that keep the lights on — to separate them from truly transformative actions or initiatives that will change the trajectory of where you’re headed. 

“Ultimately, it’s about the big picture. A new product strategy is completely different than having a small business that is not making money and asking how we can turn that around,” says Alok. 

For example, one of the areas Alok is currently working on is finding a new market for an engineering product. When starting with such a broad question as ‘What new market should we explore?’ a solid strategy is key. 

When you can theoretically sell to any country in the world, it’s a requirement to step back and consider things like:

  • What’s your market?
  • Who are your customers?
  • Who are your competitors and how much market do they have?

From there, zero in on a particular area related to your ultimate goal and determine how you want to accomplish it. 

Strategy execution and leadership

Once you have a good strategy, the issue often becomes how to execute and make it a reality. 

How can leaders carve out the time for their teams to give said strategy enough time and attention for it to be properly executed?

The answer? Consistency and continuity. 

“A true leader understands that to really do something transformative to attain a particular strategy, you have to stay with it, and you need to have some kind of reporting or metrics to look back on performance,” Alok says.

Keep in mind that any strategy spanning more than a year is likely to become diluted as it moves through the organizational life cycle whereas more crisp strategies spanning 90 to about 180 days are definitely accomplishable. 

From a leadership perspective, achieving the goals determined in your strategy requires an execution mindset and consistent tracking of specific KPIs.  

“It’s not just about creating a strategy and then working on it. As we start working on it, the strategy will need to be refined. It’s a continuous planning mechanism,” says Alok.

Good strategy includes knowing when to cut and run 

Continuous conversation and planning are as essential for ensuring everyone’s strategies are in alignment as it is for knowing when to cut the line and try again. 

Even with continuous planning, there will be instances where you try to work with a new technology and come to find, four months later, that now is not the right time for that technology. 

Keep talking with others about how to align everyone’s strategies and ensure everything is headed in the right direction. It’s important to understand what is and isn’t working. 

Ask yourself and your team if you need to change course or apply different resources, but don’t be afraid to try a completely different approach. 

Leveraging technology for strategy development and execution

Typically, legacy and traditional industries are the last to adopt new technologies, but today’s world is digital, making it imperative to embrace technology in strategy development and execution.

“Everything is changing, and everything is being digitized. Simply introducing digital technology is not a strategy. The strategy is asking what technology can do to or for your business,” Alok says. 

Change is constant, but people are also resistant to change. People who have been in their jobs for long periods of time find it harder to change, but that’s the best opportunity to show how your strategy will evolve in comparison to how your competitors are evolving. 

If some organizations don’t change track and update their strategies, their competitors will surely leave them behind. 

“That’s where when we introduce new technologies, new markets and new products, we can turn the legacy business around with the help of technology and the right strategy in terms of revenue generation,” Alok says. 

To hear this interview and many more like it, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website or search for The Strategy Gap in your favorite podcast player.

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