CommonSense Blog

Why Your First Strategy Isn’t Your Best One

By Gary Grates | Oct 16, 2015

The case for a new professional competence based on well-known functional expertise

Business strategy is designed based on multiple variables. Core competencies, competitive advantages, marketplace dynamics, threats, consumer traits, talent, etc., all form the internal decision apparatus necessary to plot strategy. In the end, the true mark of an effective business strategy is, of course, performance.

That’s why in today’s volatile environment most businesses operating in a strategy that they led with may find it’s not the most potent or even viable.

Much like a football coach who architects a detailed game plan against an opponent only to discover that after the first quarter it’s not working, business leaders now must be more agile and adept at recalibrating strategy to reflect the realities of the marketplace.

In football there is always halftime to pivot to a new strategy but in business no such time out exists. In business, organizations must be clear on intent and capable of harnessing employee behavior quickly to a different set of priorities once it’s evident change is necessary.Tyson Knock Out

“Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Companies in all sectors are discovering the validity of this premise shifting initial strategy as soon as it’s known the original game plan is proving to be ineffective. Look no further than JC Penney, Ford, Xerox, Dell, and McDonald’s to reflect the point.

Juxtapose that with companies who maintain a business strategy regardless of its effectiveness wasting resources and de-valuing its purpose until it’s too late. Think Kodak, Burger King, AB, Sears.

But how do leaders orchestrate such a shift while the business is moving at such a fast pace? Again, unlike football, there is no half-time to recalibrate and come back on the field with a new game plan after the original one was battle tested and you were able to witness how the competition reacted. It is here that strategic communications based on today’s progressive model is critically important to achieving the level of organizational agility to migrate to a different place on the board.

Pivoting to a new strategy…a new profession emerges

Following is a partial overview of the latest thinking and practices on how progressive organizations (and marketers, communicators) are “game planning” for success by rethinking the traditional definitions of PR, Communications, and Marketing.

It’s worth asking yourself which of these your company is – and isn’t – doing.

Create Context Through A Narrative: When things are uncertain, it’s important to at least provide a framework for how people should follow the situation. In this case, the need for a corporate narrative, or story, detailing the current state and evolving as conditions change allows people to latch onto something tangible. The narrative is the foundational story for not only all communications but management actions as well. It provides managers a baseline on which to build their priorities, budgets, resource plans, and communications.

Initiate New Conversations – The Power of Influence: Starting with a complete understanding of how your brand, company, product, etc., is being perceived and then determining who is generating the commentary, adopting an Influence model is now table stakes for business of any size. Communications must drive discussion, dialogue and debate to be effective and relevant. At its most basic, communications is about conversation. Communicators can facilitate new conversations inside and outside the company as a means of conditioning new attitudes and behaviors.

Get Closer with Managers: Other than their immediate peers, mid-level managers enjoy the most credibility with employees – even more than C-suite leaders. Invest time making sure your managers are engaged in the current business reality and the management thinking that’s driving decision-making. Equip them with information and tools while holding them accountable for their use in employee interactions.

They have to be convinced first or else all bets are off!

CEO: An increased role for managers aside, it’s been proven through our experience that the more senior-most leadership calibrates communications as they lead and manage the business the greater the chance that people will connect in the right ways.

One executive recently described his senior leadership’s efforts in this regard as “drive-by” communications. His point: Leaders are scheduled for town halls, diagonal slice meetings with select employees, and plant visits with managers and employees that have the appearance of communicating but are sometimes nothing more than choreographed “events” that neither reflect how the business is being managed nor provide answers to how employees need to be working. CEOs were often removed from customers except for well-choreographed events and media interviews. Social media operating in a digital context allows senior leaders to be more actively engaged with all stakeholders on a daily basis bridging gaps in understanding and interest.

Always tricky, but the closer communications are aligned with CEO actions and business decisions versus designed around them, the clearer things become and the greater the chance for trust to be sustained.

Empathy is Appreciated: So often, the rational aspects of communicating during a turbulent time overwhelm the internal discourse that employees don’t pay attention and ultimately, lose faith. Talk with people and share the emotional side of what they are feeling through your management behavior, communications and messaging.

Challenge the Status Quo; Challenge Your Instincts: Are you actually getting through? How do you know? Is your strategy just a bunch of tactics without a central premise and is your communications part of a broader management plan to engage people, influence behavior, and impact performance? Your instincts tell you to just communicate to everyone the direction and benefit of the enterprise…your instincts could be wrong as credibility may be frayed preventing your narrative from getting through. Thus, a completely different strategy and communications approach is needed.

Insight that Influences Decision-Making: In this environment, communications functions are focusing more than ever on aggregating information from multiple sources both within and outside of their control – turning this information into nuggets of insights, trends or red flags and sharing that information with senior management and other functions, thus impacting decision-making at a level and pace not seen before. What is the blog chatter concerning your situation? What’s the predominant characterization being perpetuated? This is essential in developing a new business strategy quickly and effectively.

Organize Before You Strategize: Take an opportunity to rethink what skills are critical for the organization today, and where those skills are best deployed. Also, ask yourself if the company physically brings together all areas of communications, along with select management, on a weekly or even daily basis to continually reassess the situation at hand and how to gain more control over the story the company is telling. The tendency in difficult times is to just do something without comprehending the purpose, effect, or result.

Rather, first organize the various elements surrounding the situation in a manner that can be visualized and internalized by all parties in order to then strategize about what needs to be learned and accomplished.

Employees As Your Next Product: Employee advocacy is a major differentiation to achieving relevance and gaining advantage from a strategic standpoint. Your workforce is the best set of knowledgeable and credible spokespeople you possess. Train them, outfit them, listen to them, and engage them in the business and with their own networks to amplify your narrative and stories and gain interest in a distracted world.

An active form of business strategy formulation and execution driven by a new skill set

The pace and seemingly always-transforming nature of business today is making it increasingly challenging for leaders to gain success by employing a new business strategy and not determining its effectiveness in a timely fashion.

Rather, business strategy is a means to engage and test the marketplace in order to shift course, assimilate competitive and consumer moves, and come back quickly and confidently with a new approach and fresh thinking better suited for sustained performance.

As a result, a new form of public relations, communications, and marketing is emerging – based on data, analysis, and insight – that embraces a more open, transparent, seamless, interactive, and engaging approach to stakeholder relationships and strategy formulation.

The impact is nothing short of a revolution in business strategy thinking and practice.

In a professional sense it means discarding your title and even your role based traditional descriptions.

What matters most now isn’t what you do but how you Solve!