How to Simplify Your Strategy to Cut through the Clutter

a cluttered bookcase to show the opposite of how to Simplify Your Strategy

To Simplify Your Strategy You Must Make Tough Choices
Imagine being tasked with finding a specific book in the overwhelming mess above?  Wouldn’t it be great to open the door into a clear and organized room that only contained the most important and most relevant books that you need?  The same is true when you put together a corporate strategy.  To simplify your strategy you must focus and make tough choices.

If your core strategic priorities are too numerous (i.e. greater than three or four) or too complicated (i.e. cannot be said in 12 words or less), you are unlikely to create enough understanding, believability or commitment to successfully execute the plan.

Strategic Complexity Creates Strategic Failure
IBM found that less than 10% of even well formulated strategies are effectively executed.  We find that employees rate their company’s strategy as 50% less clear than their executive team.  And sadly, the majority of executive teams that we measure report low levels of strategic alignment within their own ranks.

To simplify your strategy you must focus and keep things simple enough so that your direction, priorities and plan is clear enough, believable enough and implementable enough for all key stakeholders, not just those in the executive suite that drafted it.  If you try to cover too many objectives at once or if you cannot simply state what matters most in a few clear words, you will lose focus and confuse those who you need to carry out your plans.

Three Key Warning Signs that You Need to Simplify Your Strategy
Here are the top three red flags that your strategy is not simple enough to succeed:

  • People consistently ask for more clarifying information before they act
  • Key constituents do not agree on major priorities, resources, funding, or timing
  • The plan is not being executed consistently throughout the organization

How to Simplify Your Strategy to Close the Gap
When you want to close the gap that exists in 9 out of 10 companies between strategy design and strategy execution, you need to avoid complex schemes and follow a few simple rules for strategy.

1. Be Ruthlessly Selective
Strategy is about making difficult choices about what matters most. Narrow down your major optimizing strategies to the vital three or four that will truly make a difference. Then prioritize the critical few goals and actions within each to reduce alternatives, increase focus and decrease confusion.

2. Make It Implementable in Your Culture
Don’t try to put a “square peg strategy” through your “round hole culture.” Analyze the history of the organization to determine what has worked and what has not worked in the past. This is not the time to rely on wild guesses but on quantifiable cultural assessments and objective observations.  Do not underestimate your culture—strategies must go through culture and people to get successfully implemented.

3. Actively Put Managers and Their Teams in Charge
When the implementers are actively involved and put in charge of planning not only how to achieve the goals but also what goals make sense for their teams, you add real-world experience and buy-in. Much can be learned from those who have to “do the work.”  Empower manages and their teams to tweak and evolve the path to achieve your goals.

4. State Specific Goals Simply
Once you have identified the priorities that matter, articulate goals in a way that can be easily understood by everyone. Summiting Mount Everest is a clear goal.  Getting $150m in new revenue is a clear goal.  You know clarity when you see it. If you can explain it to someone outside of your company and they understand it immediately, you are on the right track.

The Bottom Line
To simplify your strategy you must focus and make tough choices.  Not all things are of equal importance or value.  The better you can simplify your strategic priorities, the clearer your work force will be about how to make it happen.

To learn more about how to simplify strategy, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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