With sales under pressure to perform in a market where differentiation has almost disappeared and so many products and services are becoming ‘commoditised’,leaders and management are looking for an effective alternative. Everywhere you turn these days companies are (or want to be)’strategic‘. The challenge is, many business leaders and their management generally don’t say what they really mean by that, or how to do it.

So, what does being strategic really mean? Well for starters, being strategic is not a simple event. It is an enterprise-wide philosophy that resonates throughout the organisation, affecting everything from how and what raw materials are purchased, to how the organisation provides customers with access to their resources for service and support. And whilst there are many definitions (a Google search of the term “being strategic” will give you 85 million), all have a few criteria in common, namely being strategic means.


everyone needs to be committed

  • The organisation takes an outside – in view of how things are, and should be done (in other words, they base their methods and operations on what customers want, not what they do)
  • Organisation are proactive – strategic companies make things happen at a time that suits them, rather than waiting for events to force them to change
  • Everything is aligned – the entire organisation is committed to the journey, not just a department or two
  • Everyone involved is committed to an inspiring vision and purpose

With these fundamentals in place, like so many other business processes, there is no magic formula for being strategic. Probably a good definition is simply:“Being strategic means ensuring the organisation’s core competence is consistently focusing on those directional choices that will best move the organisation toward its new future, with the least risk and in the most orderly fashion”.

Whilst there are many nuances and pitfalls along the way, Barrett has a practical approach for creating realistic strategic maps and then using that map to navigate through the rough or calm waters. Here are the five steps in a nutshell

  1. Decide what challenges you’re solving: Once there is a clear sense of the challenges being addressed – they can start being addressed.
  2. Answer the Value Proposition question: “How can we provide a uniquely valuable customer experience that drives our business’ success?” Look at core competence and decide what the value proposition is. Make sure it answers the question.
  3. Know where you’re starting from: Once you’re clear on your challenge, it’s important to have an accurate picture of the current reality. Be brutally honest as the one check the way the business is run, versus what management wants it to be like.
  4. Be clear about your new future: In difficult times it’s always easy to retreat into survival mode. However, having a clear, bold sense of the future gives employees a positive frame and offers an antidote to fear.
  5. Face the obstacles and determine the brutal facts: Now look at the possible obstacles to the vision in a dispassionate / objective way. What are the brutal facts you can control and which ones can’t you control? By facing the obstacles in a clear minded manner allows the organisation to assess the situation well and take appropriate action to overcome them.
Risk management flow chart on paper

Calculated Risk

Therefore strategies are based on a combination of our knowledge, experiences and hunches where we take calculated and, sometimes, uncalculated risks that we hope will pay off sometime in the future. So ‘being strategic’ really takes courage to lead people into uncharted and uncertain futures. “Being strategic” requires a sense of confidence in one’s decision making process which cannot be founded on 100% proof of concept. ‘Being strategic’ means being perceptive, future oriented, open minded, proactive, working off the front foot, making and taking decisions based on evidence and calculated hunches. As Samuel Johnson said “Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” Being strategic can be and often is the beginning of great undertakings and with all that the reality is only you know if a strategy works after it has happened. So do you have the self confidence, insight, and courage to be strategic?

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au