Look how many people “liked” my post!
First we heard, “I need a website.” Then we heard, “I need an e-newsletter.” Then a blog. Then a Twitter account. Then a Facebook fan page. Then Instagram. Now TikTok.
If the only justification is “because everyone else has one” or the slightly deceptive “I just need a presence there” — and you can’t explain why — you’re on the wrong track.
Social media is not strategy.
Tactics are what we hear about today. They’re more exciting and generally sexier than business strategies and objectives. (Stop yawning.) It’s exhilarating to wake up and find that 12,316 people care to read what you have to tweet next, even if 10,012 of them are bots.
But maybe it’s not social media that has captivated your attention. Do you like throwing around names like Slack or Zapier? Do you think the hottest CRM, ERP, automated workflow, or data visualization software will be the perfect strategy to turn your business around? Technology is not a strategy, either.
Social media, technology — they’re simply tools. They are tools to implement tactics to help achieve your business goals and objectives.
Understanding that tactics can support your strategies and achieve your objectives will help you select the right tactics and execute them effectively.
But before you think about strategy, it’s important to understand an even bigger picture.
The Why: Mission and Vision
Most businesses have a mission and a vision. These are the aspirational ideas of what you 1) want your organization to accomplish/what you are trying to achieve and 2) how you anticipate your business will look at the epitome of achieving your mission.
These elements direct boards, leadership, managers, and teams with:
- An understanding about why the organization exists.
- A context for everyone’s work and contributions.
- What is open to change and what should never change.
In an ideal situation, these foundational pieces of strategy can motivate you and others to get out of bed every day. Think about a research team that was designed with one purpose, “Beat cancer.”
There are many for-profits with missions and visions focused on improving people’s lives, financial liberation, or doing better for its customers. WalMart’s corporate mission is “to save people money so they can live better.”
These elements can and should drive your team’s work.
The What: Strategy
Your strategy is the master plan of how you will achieve your mission. It should address all facets of your business, from your competitive position to operations to customer experience. This should be robust enough to ultimately drive all corporate decisions.
How should you craft your strategy?
- Michael Porter defines trade-offs — choosing what not to do — as the essence of strategy. Does your strategy set and define limits? For example, do you want to cater to everyone and anyone, or have you defined a target customer profile? Are you trying to enter all markets at once?
- A distinctive value proposition should set you apart from your competition. Following with the above example: instead of catering to everyone, which customers will you target? What needs of theirs will you address?
- Next, how will you do that? Have you tailored your activities to support your value proposition? Whether performing activities differently or by performing different activities than others in your field (even if you are targeting the same customers), you gain a competitive advantage.
- For example, Rent the Runway’s value proposition is to provide a fashion revolution, a “dream closet in the cloud,” basically offering access to an “infinite selection” of designer dresses and accessories. However, to make that happen, the company needs to be the largest, most efficient dry cleaning service in the country. It doesn’t sound as glamorous as the value proposition, but that’s how they make it happen.
All the answers to these questions help define your strategy and create a complex structure in which all the parts fit together seamlessly. And each piece should be able to enhance the value of the others.
With a comprehensive, well-thought-out strategy, anyone in an organization can find guidance for decisions, from entering a new market and launching a new product to making merger and acquisition deals to selecting technology to support operations.
Should I stick to a strategy when everything is changing?
While failed companies are often accused of changing too slowly, it is possible to change too much and in the wrong ways. The old wisdom is that continuity of strategy helps companies to make judicious choices around change.
Strategy should reflect the times and incorporate flexibility and uncertainty. Being nimble, proactive, and at minimum, responsive, will help you stay relevant.
Yet don’t bury your head in the sand. While a clear mission and vision set the foundation, strategy should not necessarily be carved in stone. Strategies may need to change or adapt with growth, constriction, as other players or technologies enter the market, or radical changes like pandemics affect supply chains, consumer behavior, needs, and more. Evolve as appropriate.
Strategic Goals and Objectives
Goals and objectives begin to make missions and strategies more concrete. They can be operationalized, cut across functional areas, and address financial and nonfinancial issues (but don’t always have to do all this).
While the common wisdom for setting goals focuses around BHAGSs (big, hairy, audacious goals) to push you, psychology tells us that if we constantly set goals we don’t meet, we internalize the failure. And that’s not good. We should be selecting goals that stretch us but are achievable.
Objectives drill down further into strategy. They need to be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and incorporate a time dimension. Bottom line: they are precise terms of what needs to be accomplished in order to meet the goals.
Setting goals and objectives bring up important questions. For example, if an objective is to double your client base or land a multimillion-dollar client, the next questions should be: Can the business support that? What happens if you achieve your goals? What happens if you don’t?
When conducting a strategic review, whether you met your goals and objectives or not, it’s important to identify why. Sometimes failing to meet one objective is not a bad thing. Understanding why you did or did not accomplish what you set out to do is important.
But let’s get back to the different elements; your strategy needs an action plan.
The How: Plans, Actions, Tasks, and . . . Tactics
Now that you have set specific objectives, how will you accomplish them? How do you make it all happen? I bet you never thought I’d get back to those tactics I mentioned at the beginning. Here is where they become relevant.
Plans should be developed with details — defining actions, tasks, and tactics. These should also include timelines, milestones, an allocation of resources, and, if needed, “phase gates” to review if a course of action should continue. Lastly, responsibilities should be assigned.
Now, the puzzle pieces come together: these plans and tactics are there to accomplish the objectives and the larger goals.
New tactics and tools — from technology to social media sites — should be seen as additional tools in the toolbox. They should not be ignored but considered like any other. How you choose to execute your strategy should reflect the environment in which you exist and operate.
Sometimes, plans don’t work as expected (another good reason to have milestones and phase gates). At each milestone and phase gate, you (or someone not personally involved in the execution) should review/evaluate:
- What plans are currently in place, and what actions will accomplish this?
- Do I need to adjust some of the plans and actions?
- Do I need to consider the resources that have been allocated?
- Is the spending too much or too little?
- Do the people assigned to this work have the skill set necessary to succeed?
If you choose to use a new tactic or tool, consider your organizational capabilities:
- Do we really understand how to best use this tool and leverage its value?
- Who in my company will be responsible for its implementation?
- Do they need training or more information?
- Does this tactic change/impact anything else?
- What changes will I need to make when I implement it?
- What changes should I expect if it’s successful?
- Will it increase demand more than I can currently handle?
- How will I evaluate its impact?
Finally, if you decide to outsource the implementation of this tactic, make sure you choose a vendor who wants to understand how this tactic fits with your larger strategy and plans.
There’s a great Sesame Street skit my daughter likes: Ernie wakes Bert first by playing the trumpet and then by playing the drums. Bert explains to Ernie he needs to “stop and think about what will happen.”
When hearing and learning about shiny new tools and tactics, make sure you, too, “stop and think.”