Strategy and Execution
By Dick Cross
Follow the Index Card Strategy to transform your business.
Guilty as charged!
Yes, in my early consulting career I consumed way too much in clients’ funds creating beautiful and unassailable strategic plans. Memorialized in thick, fancy three-ring binders. That never made any difference …
It wasn’t that the plans were wrong. They would have worked. With devastating effectiveness! The trouble was that my team and I were the only ones who understood them well enough to be committed to their execution.
It took quite some consternation and time for me to come up with an alternative approach … that works … but I did. The result? No more than five short bullets – fewer than eight words each – on one side of an index card. That’s it!
And what’s so effective about this almost embarrassingly minimalist approach to strategy … versus the evidentiary quality of the binders? As a great CEO on the West Coast told me nearly 20 years ago, “Dick, if you can’t get it down to 40 words on an index card … you just haven’t thought about it hard enough!”
The beauty of the Index Card Strategy is that everyone can understand the whole scheme. They can also see how the five or fewer initiatives work together, reinforce one another, and can imagine in totality how their company might be different, and better, when the plan is in place. They can remember it. And they can begin to think on their own about how they can contribute to its realization.
But how do you come up with the three, four or five ideas, and what qualifies as a strategy? The lynchpin is in a previous article of this series. If you haven’t read it, or don’t recall the story clearly, see page 6 of the September issue of AutoInc.
It’s an urging for you, in your job at the top, to be the custodian of the mission of your business. The idea that walks the “knife edge” between what’s absurd to even think about, and what just might be possible.”
That mission is the next heroic objective that you have convinced yourself and everyone else is an exciting possibility … clearly a stretch, but nonetheless an enticing possibility … for your business. With a timeline that is far enough out to be an eye-popping accomplishment, but close enough in to have an edge. Index Card Strategy is then simply the handful of hurdles you need to clear to move from your current reality, to the realization of that mission.
People often confuse things they need to do to keep their businesses, as they are currently configured, healthy and moving forward. Those don’t qualify. Strategies are different. They’re bigger. Strategies are the things that will transform your business into something genetically better than it is today.
They’ll include things like implanting yourself in the preferences of new categories of customers. With new products. Changing or broadening your offering to address new and compelling needs. Reconstructing how you are known to match a more vibrant market opportunity. Developing a technology that others won’t be able to match. And usually the willingness to add new competencies and discontinue others as your new business model takes over.
Strategies are things that change your Back of the Envelope business concept (see July AutoInc.).
Once you've settled on a set of five or fewer strategies that will rewrite your Back of the Envelope, execution becomes a lot easier to plan, budget and understand. Execution at that point is simply the collection of mini-plans that correspond to each strategy. Three, four or five strategies; three, four or five execution plans. That’s it. No binder!
Of course there are feedback loops. You may find out, for example, that the execution plans for a particular strategy are beyond your technical means, or you may not have the financial resources to support the investment. Simple. Go back, re-specify your strategies and try again.
It’s unfortunate that the black eye of strategy from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s has turned so many people in Jobs at the Top entirely away from the idea. Don’t be one of those. Electrify your organization with a simple and compelling set of strategies and execution plans linked directly to a noble and deeply inspiring mission. That’s your job. And no one else’s.
Dick Cross is the author of “Just Run It,” an Amazon best-seller. He is founder and managing principal of The Cross Partnership Ltd., and is a consultant and speaker. He may be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dick Cross on Twitter – @DickCross.
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