In a previous article, I compared the development and execution of Strategy to the use of your car navigation system. The three main elements of this analogy are very clear to see:
Know where you are
Your navigation system cannot determine a path without knowing the starting point. Neither can strategy planning. You must first assess where you are now. The culture, assets, strengths, weaknesses, or any other measure you want to use would help you determine where your starting point is. One question that helps me facilitate strategy development is: "what don't you like?" (about your company, business, market, etc.)
Determine where you want to go
There is no point in putting your car in Drive if you don't know where you want to go. The navigation system will not provide you any guidance before you entered the destination. Don't start taking actions in your company without a clear strategy. Start with determining the "end-game." Where would you want your company to be at the end of this journey? Be as high level as possible. Ask "why" multiple times until you find where you really want to go.
Calculate your route
A navigation system will do this automatically. No so much when developing a strategy. While knowing where you are and where you want to go are critical, there is no app that could determine the path for you. You (or your Chief Strategist) has to do it.
But here is a step that, while you may not be aware of its existence in your car navigation system, skipping it would yield a strategy that is less than optimal, unattainable, or could drag your entire company down to its demise.
There are several ways to drive from where you are to your destination. Have you ever thought about how your car's navigation system chooses one way over the others? The navigation system has a menu called "Trip Preferences" (or something similar). This menu is not typically easily accessible, since not often you want to change those preferences. Those are, typically: the fastest Route (this is typically the default, which will take you to your destination in the shortest time, even if using longer highways or toll-roads), the shortest route (which you might care about if your car is leased and you are worried about mileage), the toll-free route, and the scenic route. Depending on your personal preferences, which might change.
And the analogy?
Often strategists jump to developing a strategy immediately after determining the start and end points. As a result, they produce a strategy that is, apparently or not, impractical for the company. Consultants "excel" at that. While they offer an objective, outsider look into the company and its environment, they fail to see restrictions and boundaries that may prevent the execution of the strategy they devised. They may offer a strategy that worked for other companies, ignoring the differences between them. Finally, it could even not be their fault, as those restrictions and boundaries may have not been communicated to them. At the end, the strategy consultant would deliver a very well formatted, 20-page strategy document, with graphs and pictures, that would end up collecting dust on a shelf and never used.
And the solution?
Once the starting and ending points have been determined and agreed upon, the in-house strategist or strategy consultant must understand the restrictions and boundaries that executing the strategy must be subject to. There could be many. Here are a few examples:
Financial and investment limitations;
Some of the restrictions would require some digging, and asking "why?" many times until they are uncovered. However, it is important that the boundary conditions and restrictions be completely understood, before the strategy is developed. Just like a car navigation system will not calculate the route before you selected your route preferences.