October 31, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on a strategy development theme to celebrate a special milestone — Issue #350! Below you’ll find some of our most referenced content from over the past 20+ years. Enjoy!


1. Strategy Is About Making Choices

Strategy is all about making fundamental choices and setting priorities. If you aren’t making choices —setting boundaries and outcome-focused goals— you aren’t creating strategies. Identifying a set of functional categories is not enough; choose pathways and priorities.

Your strategies are the organizing principles that inform all of the actions and activities of your organization. This gives strategy its power:  Everyone connected with your agency should know (and may have a part in developing) specific priorities to be pursued and also, perhaps, some directions that should not.

Note that a strategic plan differs from an operational plan.  Strategy focuses on initiatives or approaches that require special emphasis, time, effort or resources. It typically complements and frames “who does what by when” operational plans.

Also see:

Lenses for Strategy Development

Strategies Are Built On Choices


2.  Mission and Vision Frame Your Strategies

Without a clear vision of what you (perhaps together with others) want to see come about over the next 5-10 years, it will be difficult to develop a clear direction with effective focus and strategies to guide your organization’s efforts.

A Vision Statement is typically a clear and succinct description of what the world should look like when your long-term goals have been fully realized.

Some groups, however, prefer to focus on a vision for their own organization and what it should be after successfully implementing their strategies and achieving their full potential.

And as Jim Collins points out, vision also involves a blend of aspirations that preserve “the core” of the organization while stimulating progress towards your “destination postcard”.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future? You might reflect on:

  • Breakthrough achievements you’d like to see (perhaps imagine headlines),
  • How the organization might look in the future in terms of scope or size,
  • How your interactions with stakeholders might change, and/or
  • What capabilities you want to put in place to stretch as an organization.

The scope of your strategic plan is defined by your Mission, which sets out your singular if not unique role as an organization (thus providing direction and boundaries). Consider these questions as you map out the context of your core purpose, aim or mandate:

  • What is the reason you exist?
  • What role does your organization play and how does it contribute to achieving your broader vision?
  • In what areas do you excel? Where do you act with passion and excellence?

Organizations are a reflection of their past — their origins, their evolutions and their people. If you were to start with a blank page to design your organization afresh, optimized for the landscape you see ahead, what might that look like?

3.  Strategy’s Companion … Change

Most strategic initiatives seem to involve a heavy focus on change. Yet a majority of change projects fail in whole or in part. After all these years, John Kotter’s classic eight-step model for successful change is still highly effective:

  • Create a sense of urgency, recruit a coalition of powerful change leaders, build a vision and communicate it effectively, remove obstacles, create quick wins, and build on momentum.

As Kotter notes on his website: “A volunteer army needs a coalition of effective people —born of its own ranks— to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.”

Over the longer term, you’ll have to make a continuing effort to anchor those changes in your organizational routines, habits  and practices.

Four Levels of Culture Change:

Changing your workplace culture is one of those areas of strategy that can have a high payoff but is often hard to implement, and it requires a sustained effort over time. A related problem is where to focus and how to start. Here’s a model called The Cultural Cycle, outlined by Stanford’s Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner.

The cultural cycle is a repeating process of interactions across four levels:

  • Individual selves (one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions).
  • Everyday practices and materials/artifacts that reflect and shape individuals.
  • Institutional frameworks (education, law, media) that enable practices.
  • Ideas and values about what is good, right and human.

This model recognizes that no action is caused by either individual psychology or external influences — both are always at work. And a change at one level usually requires change at all four levels to be sustainable.

For more, see:  

Don’t Get Stuck on Change

Four Reasons Your Employees Resist Change

Talk About Change with Seven Simple Questions

Plan For Resistance To Change

Three Steps for Change: Unfreezing, Moving & Refreezing

Four Myths about Change Initiatives  

4. Implementation Brings Your Strategy to Life

If a strategy is to succeed, it’s not enough to simply determine general goals. You need to define a winnable game, with a strong focus on the disciplines of strategy execution to move your organization forward.

One helpful model comes from The 4 Disciplines of Execution to achieve your “wildly important goals”, as identified by FranklinCovey’s Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling.

“Exceptional execution starts with narrowing the focus — clearly identifying what must be done,” they note. “Otherwise, nothing else you achieve really matters much.”

So consider these four disciplines when designing strategy:

  • Narrowing the focus. Focus on less so your team can achieve more.
  • Leveraging what drives success. “The battles you choose must win the war.”
  • Keep a compelling scoreboard to support emotional engagement.
  • Create a cadence of accountability: Use regular, short and frequent meetings to consistently hold each other accountable for producing results.

For more, see:

Disciplines of Strategy Execution

Five Fundamental Factors for Strategy Execution

Surprises and Unintended Consequences

Executing Strategy

Why Your Strategy Isn’t Working

5. Five Zingers on Stakeholder Engagement:

  • Why are you asking them to engage? Stakeholders want to understand your motivation. Sincere, open engagement is a plus. Seeking “buy-in” may trigger scepticism, especially in low-trust circumstances.
  • What’s the focus? Be clear about the scope of the interaction, the boundaries of what can be discussed or not and why, as well as their role as participants (brainstorming, setting priorities, critiquing?).
  • How will stakeholders see their input make a difference? They want to know how the consultation will fit into your overall decision-making process. Too often they volunteer their time and expertise but never hear about how their feedback shaped your subsequent decisions.
  • How inclusive and accessible is your engagement format? Unless you’re engaging a very homogenous group of participants, it’s best to offer some choice. For example, a mix of times/dates and online or physical locations. Formats such as debating in front of a large crowd can be intimidating: Can you offer other ways for them to provide their input?
  • How will you help stakeholders prepare? In public engagement processes, participants often have different levels of interest and knowledge — can you provide them with information in advance so they can prepare and start the discussion on a common footing?

Source:  Foundations For Public Engagement


6. The List:  Planning Under Uncertainty

Just because the future is ambiguous, uncertain, complex or risky doesn’t mean you can’t plan. In highly volatile circumstances, you have several options for how to approach your planning work.

Strategies themselves can be structured in different ways for high-risk/high-uncertainty planning contexts. They may involve conditional strategies, adaptive rules, building responsive capacity, following values and protecting the downside.

We can also learn from the chaos of combat operations and fighter pilot John Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act model (called OODA Loops).

In such competitive situations, writer Robert Greene says, “the proper mindset is to let go a little, to allow some of the chaos to become part of your mental system, and to use it to your advantage by simply creating more chaos and confusion for the opponent.”

Here are 10 other approaches to consider when facing uncertain conditions:

  • Signal-triggered Moves: As you think through possible future scenarios, can you identify early signals that would indicate your future is unfolding in a particular way?
  • Conditional Strategic Steps: Similarly, can you develop step-by-step strategies that are pursued as pieces fall into place?
  • Matching Strategies: If you face a limited number of alternative and uncertain futures, can you build starting points and match up provisional strategies for each one?
  • Good Strategy Regardless: Frequently a particular strategy is good for you no matter what happens, or in the face of a variety of different risks — much like a healthy diet is good for you whether you’re a diabetic or not.
  • Decision rules as strategy: When circumstances are changing rapidly, it sometimes makes more sense to use strategic “rules” rather than plans. (Example: Look after the downside and let the upside look after itself.).
  • Fit to adapt to anything: Can you retool capabilities to perform more effectively in a rapidly changing environment? (For example, becoming “nimbler” through more flexible structure and adaptive approaches, building buffers/reserves, or deferring projects vulnerable to change.)
  • Leave it to fate: Consider a wait-and-see approach. Can you reserve your future “right to play” in a project or keep your seat at the table with modest resource investments while avoiding premature commitments?.
  • Or not: Alternatively, is there a role you can play to shape your environment and influence external factors, policy or decision-makers?
  • Do the right thing: When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing.
  • Limit the downside: Look at ways to spread the risk or limit potential damage from a worst-case situation.

You may also be interested in:

Planning When You Can’t Predict

Thinking Straight in a Topsy-Turvy World

Strategic Plans in Uncertain Circumstances


7.  Around Our Water Cooler

Bringing Values and Identity Into Strategy Development

In our practice, some of the most interesting as well as difficult and sometimes circular discussions involve the strategic impact of identity and values.

There are scores of values that are part of an organization’s culture. It’s important to identify those few that are truly “drivers” — authentic core values that define how you approach your mission/vision and design strategies to achieve goals.

To help you develop this type of values-based strategic focus, here are three questions taken from the work of Jim Collins and Jerry PorrasBuilt to Last.

Use them to “test” whether a value is deeply held and influential in shaping your organization’s planning and workplace culture:

  • Would you want your organization to stick to this core value no matter what — even if at some point you had to “pay a price” for that or if holding that value became a disadvantage for you in some way in the future?
  • Do you believe that those who do not share this core value — those who breach it consistently — simply do not belong in your organization?
  • If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core value regardless of the specific type of business you’re in?

As Collins stresses: “This is not a wordsmithing exercise. This is an exercise to capture the authentic core values and purpose of your organization, not to create a ‘pretty statement’.”

And if values are going to really take hold in your organization, author Patrick Lencioni says those values need to be integrated into every employee-related process.

“If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement.” Core values become strategic when they form the basis for every decision the company makes.

For more, see:  Are Your Values Strategic?


What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: The Guru Guide: The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers by Joseph and Jimmie Boyett is a wonderful guidebook to strategy and leadership, bringing together in one volume the main points of nearly 80 top gurus in thoughtful, comprehensive, but not overly-long summaries. It was published in 1998 but the ideas are at the root of more recent books and can help you today. familiar, some not.
  • Rob’s Pick: Strategy Bites Back by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel.  We mentioned this book last year, but I keep going back to this great collection of short thought-provoking pieces that challenge our assumptions when it comes to strategy making. This classic features dozens of authors — from Mintzberg and Michael Porter to Richard Branson and Gary Hamel, Mao Tse Tung and Mozart, and our own Harvey Schachter.


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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support strategic planning and change processes, marketing communications and research / stakeholder consultations. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.

8.  Closing Thought

“Every contact leaves a trace.”

Dr. Edmond Locard (Forensic scientist – the “Sherlock Holmes of France”)