The Essence of Strategy

“Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to succeed, but more importantly, what’s your plan to succeed?” Jim Rohn

Success requires more than desire; it requires strategy. My question for you is: do you have a strategy for success?

Recently, I did a webinar with Jimmy Newson of Moving Forward Small Business on how to create a simple and effective strategic plan. As we opened the conversation, Jimmy shared that when he begins to develop a strategy, he overthinks and tries to solve every problem. I’ve seen that exact problem numerous times in my role as a Vistage Master Chair. Strategy does mean taking everything into account or consideration but to be effective for a business; the focus needs to be on the essence of strategy and prioritize what’s important right now. I’ve seen too many strategic plans sitting on a CEO’s shelf gathering dust.

As the conversation continued, I was able to share decades of experience and go through a simple exercise in real-time so that someone could walk away with a clear plan of how to put a strategy into action and achieve an outcome necessary for the success of their company.

I want you to be able to do the same.

It’s quite simple. All it requires is that you take the time to think carefully about what you want to do and ask people what they think. That’s it. You will identify three elements—what do you/we want (outcome), what do you/we have (assets), and what will you/we do (actions)—and get feedback on your answers.

Let’s get started.

First, identify the outcome that you want. An outcome is a present state of success that will be transformed into an even bigger victory over time. Consider what you do well and want to do great. It should be specific, measurable, and set in time.

For example, in my conversation with the participants of Moving Forward Small Business, Chris Diamantakis, Co-Founder of Pure Joy Coffee, participated in our exercise and set the outcome of reaching 1000 customers in the next ninety days.

Ninety days for completion is ideal because it is far enough out that results can be produced and close enough that you won’t be as likely to lose sight of it. His outcome was one that many new businesses share.

Quick tip for formulating your outcome: would a seven-year-old understand what your outcome means, and would they know if you had achieved it? In the case of Chris, we needed to make “reach” tangible for a young child and consider how we would present the results in a way they would understand. Don’t move on until you’ve found a way to make your outcome measurable for a child.

Your outcome must be rooted in your noble cause and core values. What does your organization live for? What does your organization stand for? An outcome connected to your noble cause will inspire the best in people and allow them to rise above office politics.

Once you have a measurable outcome based on your noble cause, make a list of everything you can think of to help you achieve it. These are called assets. Assets are the resources you have available now (not wish you had). They could be people, capital, budget, technology, a mentor, consultant, coach, intellectual property, processes, training, education, etc. You want to be specific and list a sufficient number so that you overwhelm the outcome.

In our example, Pure Joy Coffee’s assets include:

  • A custom-built website with Google analytics and Google console
  • Specialized relationships within in the industry
  • Experience in e-commerce
  • Excellent product
  • Strong ties to source of production
  • Motivation and drive
  • Location: access to in-person contact with potential clients

After you have completed your list, ask, “Do I have a sufficient number of assets and the right type of assets to accomplish the stated outcome by the intended date?” If the answer is no, reflect on how you could create more assets. You may need to talk to people in your organization and ask what assets are missing.

Quick tip for evaluating your assets: if you don’t have an overwhelming yes for the test question—are there enough assets to accomplish the outcome?—don’t hesitate to create an interim strategy to produce more assets!

If your assets are numerous and diverse and in alignment with your outcome, create another category called actions. Look at each of your assets and reflect on this question: “How can I take the assets I have and convert them into actions?” Write down the actions that you will take to produce the outcome. At this point, you are brainstorming. Don’t evaluate if it will work or not, just think of what’s possible.

Again, using Pure Joy Coffee as an example, actions could be:

  • Alliances with mindfulness spaces with shared missions
  • Free samples of coffee in Union Square
  • Participation in networking events
  • Improving SEO
  • Creating partnerships with social media influencers

With this list in hand, put the actions in order of what should be implemented immediately and who will do that, and when they will do it. Once that is done, you need to ask yourself and others who are unbiased, even skeptical: “Will these actions help us achieve the outcome?”

Quick tip for avoiding common mistakes: make sure you aren’t writing down what people are already doing and don’t assume that everything will go perfectly! There is no such thing as a perfect plan.

In implementing the strategy to achieve an outcome, it is common to struggle with pitfalls. The best way to avoid these is to identify right now what will stop or prevent you from taking action.

Chris recognized that when too many things are on his plate, he loses focus, which is exactly what I see as the primary pitfall for most small business owners. Remember, whenever you are doing something that isn’t a behavior on your list, you aren’t focused on your strategy.

The best way to overcome your pitfalls is to make sure you are sufficiently inspired (have an outcome based on your noble cause), have the assets to make it happen, and are focused on your list of actions.

In summary, create a strategy by going through these steps:

You could stop there but the most effective way to guarantee that you have accurately evaluated yourself and will have the support you need is to get feedback. To do that, you need to use your strategy and create a pitch.

A pitch is made up of three components: the trigger question, the wheel, and the close. Ask someone—a potential client or investor or unbiased neighbor—if they have five minutes to talk to you about your business. That’s the trigger question. People almost always have five minutes. Present the wheel, which is your outcome, assets, and actions. And then close with “What do you think? Is there anything missing? Would you like to participate?”

If you follow these simple steps and ask for this feedback, you will create an effective strategy guaranteed to produce the desired outcome.