Keeping strategy focused and real-world empirically based while maintaining a big picture perspective
I have been writing about strategy here for as long as I have been posting to this blog, discussing how it aligns and informs a business and the people who work there. I continue that with this posting and with a discussion of focus per se, as a core component to any effective strategy.
Strategy is often viewed as being “big picture” and “broad brush stroke” in nature, and there is an element of truth to that. Effective strategy does provide a longer term road map for going forward with higher level goals and priorities laid out. But strategy as considered from this perspective can only work if it is based on a clear, dispassionate empirically based understanding of where the business is in its immediate here and now.
• This means knowing where it stands in its marketplace, and in terms of outwardly connecting metrics.
• This means knowing what its resource base is that it can maintain and build from – its more inwardly facing metrics.
• This means holding a clear understanding of the organization and in how it fits into its marketplace and context, and both for its customers and potential customers, and for its competition – and also for its supply chain partners and others in its active community.
• That means integrating a clear understanding of funds available and spending from that of the type I have been developing in my series Understanding and Navigating Burn Rate: a startup primer (see Startups and Early Stage Business directory, postings 67-78.)
Ultimately, while the “big picture” and “broad brush stroke” understanding may be an outcome of strategy and a valuable one to cultivate, this vision and understanding can only hold value and make sense, and it can only be accurate to the extent it is well grounded in the lower-to-the-ground details.
At this point I could easily shift this discussion to a more detailed analysis of strategic balanced scorecards and other tools that can be used to organize and make sense of the flow of finer grained data that is called for here. I have in fact touched on some of the details to that a number of times in this blog and I plan on delving further into this topic area too. And with that in mind I share a book recommendation in anticipation of postings to come:
• Kaplan, RS and DP Norton. (1996) The Balanced Scorecard. Harvard Business School Press.
Kaplan and Norton have, I add, have written further on this and related topics but I still find this work to be of real value too. And for a more comprehensive look into the analytical side of business strategy I cite:
• Porter, Michael E. (2008) On Competition, updated and expanded edition. Harvard Business Press.
But my goal here in this posting is to address the issues of mindset that go into forming and using strategy, and that would shape any decision to use these tools, and in how their findings would be used. And I switch here to consider startups and early stage businesses, and startups in particular as they have the least resources in place so they are most vulnerable to the complications of getting this wrong.
• Business founders are not always deeply analytically oriented, and in fact the drive to found a business and to take the risks of building from scratch can in effect select for those who prefer a big picture approach.
• That approach is valuable and if it is properly matched with complementary skills and perspectives it can greatly increase chance of success.
• But the key words that are “matched with complementary skills and perspectives.” If the founding chief executive officer only or even just primarily takes a big picture, broad brush stroke approach they need to find and cultivate a founding chief operating officer, or perhaps a founding chief strategy officer who can operationalize that big picture perspective and ground it in an empirical, nuts and bolts detailed foundation for moving forward.
And that brings me to the impetus that has prompted me to write this posting, and both as a part of this blog and as an installment in my Startups and Early Stage Business directory.
First time entrepreneurs in particular, setting out on their first attempt to build a startup can be very resistant to accepting let alone relying on mindsets and skills sets that they do not share. They take what can be seen as an exclusionary sense of ownership – as opposed to a more open and inclusive approach.
According to that second approach they would see their proposed venture as holding potential to grow to allow room for more people to own and contribute and still leave open-to-growth opportunity for themselves. Think of the first, exclusionary approach to leadership and ownership as a zero-sum game where if I relinquish voice to others I proportionately relinquish ownership and control. And my share of a fixed quantity of potential business value becomes diminished accordingly. A more open and inclusive approach has in its big picture DNA a conviction that the core concept that would inform this venture can support open-ended growth and opportunity. More hands and more voices, and a wider pool of shared ownership can make that happen faster and with greater assurance of long term success.
• This is a lesson learned that serves to distinguish between first time and serial entrepreneurs.
I have approached this topic of exclusionary and inclusive approaches from the perspective of strategy for a reason. That is where this difference makes itself visible and that is the place where a startup is most likely to fail if it does – from failure to include, and more specifically from a failure to effectively connect the big picture to that essential empirical, detail-oriented grounding, but while maintaining that big picture understanding too.
I will be adding more to this topic, and meanwhile you can find this and related postings at Startups and Early Stage Business. Also see Business Strategy and Operations. and its continuation at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.