Once upon a strategy…
Updated: Mar 2
Build a results-driven strategy by telling a story
Strategy is ultimately about complex decision-making. When you're managing multiple resource pools, each autonomously controlled at some level, you need a plan that connects the dots for people. Strategy is a framework to organize, align, and inspire. While every organization needs its north star, its purpose, strategy tells the story of how you're going to get there. The problem is that developing strategy can be an inherently messy process with countless stakeholders, opinions, and conflicting or missing data. It’s all too easy to be drawn off on tangents or “rabbit-hole” on individual data points and ideas. The result and the process can be unsatisfying and inconclusive.
There are countless strategic planning frameworks designed to help with this, but the one we gravitate towards most for cross-functional teams is scenario-based strategic planning. The reason? It’s fundamentally story-based and, therefore, easy to grasp regardless of function or past strategic planning experience. You start by imagining a desired future state of your business or specific outcome (the end of the story you want to tell), and then work backward to imagine scenarios that would get you there. Each scenario is a credible story of how you could reach your goal. You’ll start by creating several possible scenarios, which can start as a simple 3-4 sentence paragraph. Then narrow down your scenarios through analysis and internal “pressure testing” with stakeholders. For each scenario, you ask a series of questions. For example:
What market trends or inherent external truths have to hold for this scenario to deliver the outcome we want?
What has to be true of our products and services? Can we imagine them evolving in this direction?
What impact would the scenario have on our operations and revenue? Are we structured for success?
Do we have the right talent, skills and resources today, and if not, is there a clear path to acquiring them?
Do we have the financial capital (or other assets) we need to achieve this scenario - or a clear and realistic path to acquiring it?
By creating multiple scenarios, businesses can explore different courses of action and weigh the potential risks and rewards without falling into analysis paralysis. This can help you be more creative and innovative in your decision-making, and it can also help to identify new opportunities and areas for growth.
Perhaps most importantly, the process of doing scenario-based strategic planning builds strong team alignment. We deeply believe in the truism that a highly aligned team with a OK strategy will outperform a misaligned team with the perfect one. Further, our approach draws on the expertise of everyone in your team and each person can evaluate different scenarios through their own lens. It’s cross-functional and is the best methodology we’ve seen that naturally draws on the Wisdom of Crowds.
Finally, by committing to a winning scenario (and discarding others), you achieve one of the most important outcomes of any strategic planning process: focus and discipline. After all, as Michael Porter famously said, “The essence of strategy is deciding what not to do.”
How to get started with scenario-based strategic planning:
Scenario-based planning is a fairly simple and adaptable framework (a big reason we like it), and it can be done at almost any level in the organization. The keys to success are:
Agreeing on what you are solving for (the focal issue)
Running a disciplined and inclusive process (a tough balancing act)
Knowing what you know and efficiently figuring out what you don’t
Having an owner who will drive it to completion (either internal or external)
If you’d like to know more about scenario-based-planning and how to apply it to your organization, please get in touch!