A new year is here. Why not begin it with one of the most powerful alignment tools at the CEO’s disposal?
I was recently talking with a CEO who had apparently put a lot of time into his company’s strategic plan. Every time we got to a new topic, he would proudly tell me, “Oh, yes, that’s in our strategic plan.”
After the third or fourth mention of the plan, I asked, “Can I see this thing?”
The CEO was happy to oblige. Soon I was looking at an Excel spreadsheet with about 17 tabs and literally hundreds of entries. It was not the first time I have seen such a plan. Of all the mistakes companies make in strategic planning, one of the most fundamental is confusing a protracted task list for a usable company strategy.
In these cases of overly long plans, the CEO might have a perfectly good strategy in their own head. In fact, the problem in most organizations is not a fundamentally bad strategy. The problem is that the CEO hasn’t communicated the strategy in a way that can be effectively implemented.
I see CEOs running around talking about strategy in a way that is completely unintelligible to their average employee.
The challenge for the CEO is how to present the strategy so that it impacts the frontline workers who are doing most of the actual work. Often, I see CEOs running around talking about strategy in a way that is completely unintelligible to their average employee. They often use confusing or jargon-filled language, mentally referring back to a very complex, long strategic plan.
The 1-Page Approach to Strategy
Strategy is probably the single most talked-about area of business. Academics like Michael Porter and Roger Martin have made their careers writing and consulting on business strategy. Numerous consulting firms are happy to charge a hefty fee to prepare lengthy PowerPoints to capture all aspects of your strategy.
But if we turn to the masters of strategy, we see that they consistently emphasize a few traits of a good plan. These include the use of understandable language, clear conveyance of the leader’s intent, and—yes—brevity.
For example, the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, one of the most famous strategists of all time and a significant influence on wise business leaders through today, insisted that his officers keep their orders precise, unambiguous, and short. “The rule was that they should never contain a single word by the omission of which their meaning would not be suddenly and completely affected,” writes the historian Arden Bucholz. In part through this discipline and clarity, von Moltke helped modernize military strategy—and became known as a tactical genius.
I would like to share with you a deceptively simple tool for bringing a similar discipline and clarity to your company’s strategic plan.
We’re going to boil down your entire strategy into a 1-page strategic plan. This document will become guide for every single member of your organization. Here’s everything you need to include.
1. Company Mission & Vision
The mission and vision are important to put on the 1-page strategic plan because they represent the most fundamental purpose of the organization’s existence. They should go at the very top of the plan.
Your mission statement describes your overall purpose as an organization:
- What is our overarching intent?
- What makes us different from everyone else?
- What is the essence of what we’re trying to achieve?
Tesla’s mission statement is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” These eight words do an incredible amount of work for the company. They tie the people who work at Tesla to a higher purpose—i.e., they are not just making cars. It also helps them attract employees who are part of the same “tribe” and highly motivated toward the mission. Having employees that have bought into your company’s mission is the only way to deliver exceptional performance.
Your vision statement describes how the world will look if you achieve your mission:
- What role in the world do we want this organization to play?
- How will people live differently if our organization is successful?
Amazon says, “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Those are powerful words that provide a clear direction for every Amazon employee.
2. Company Values
Next come company values. I hope you have already established these as well. Before you put the values in the 1-page strategic plan, make sure they still accurately describe what you want to see reflected in the company.
Many companies choose values that are so generic and expected that they don’t differentiate you. Of course, everyone expects honesty, integrity, quality, etc. But none of these overly broad values are likely to cause anyone in your organization to act differently or help someone choose your organization over another. For example, some companies may value risk taking while other companies values consistency. Values help everyone understand the tradeoffs every organization must make to differentiate themselves and be successful in a competitive market.
3. Strategic Goals
To complete the 1-page strategic plan, we need a set of 4–5 clearly defined goals looking out over a 2–3 year period. These objectives are the fundamental outputs of the strategy process. In writing them, you want to answer this question: If we execute our strategy successfully, what tangible outcomes should we be able to attain in each functional area of the business?
Start the goal-setting process with the two triangles of tension every CEO must manage: The first trial shows the external tensions that exists between shareholders, customers, and employees. The second trial shows the internal tensions that exist between sales, marketing, and product.
Using these six areas, simply ask the question: What is the most important thing we need to accomplish in each of these areas in the next two years?
Agreeing on those goals with clear objective measurements for each provide a roadmap for the entire organization. Every six months you should then review those strategic objectives and update and extend them so that you always have strategic goals that are 2–3 years in the future.
Putting It All Together
Once you have this material in once place, test its clarity and conciseness. Do a von Moltke check: Is your intent clear? Are there excessive words that don’t convey meaning?
I like to put the mission and vision at the top of a PowerPoint slide, then place the core values on the left side and the 4–5 strategic objectives on the right side. Your 1-page strategic plan now helps people see it all together in one view, an integrated whole. This is all most companies truly need to create a renewed sense of alignment—a fresh, companywide sense of “OK, this is what we’re all about and what we’re trying to get done.”
Once you have made your plan, it’s time to get it in front of people. Make a blown-up laminated copy for conference rooms and employees’ desks. Make it the background of the company iPad. Place it at the very top of your communication and file-storage tools. And, above all, talk about it a lot.
Yes, it’s just one page. And no, its contents are not mind-blowing. But there is more power in this one page than in all the tabs and cells of an overstuffed Excel sheet combined.