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Opinion: 4 Keys to Overcome Strategy Struggles

Business Shifts

Posted online

Far too often the language and tools of strategy obstruct the development of practical and feasible business strategy.

For some, it’s obsessing over which planning tools are best to use: customer analysis, “SWOT” exercises, financial modeling or a variety of others. Still others struggle with the analyses of market trends, customer trends or creating those “big hairy audacious goals” coined by authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. And this doesn’t even take into consideration other popularized methods that often miss the point of creating clear, executable strategy.

It doesn’t have to be this difficult. Developing strong, workable business strategy can be much easier than it sounds.

Author and leadership coach Jeffrey Foley recently reached out to me. I took from this relationship the opportunity to glean from his experience as a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army. Valuable pointers emerged for creating strategy and adapting to disruptive changes.

Combining the insights and suggestions I garnered from Brig. Gen. Foley, and those I’ve experienced from my own work with corporations, I’ve identified four keys to overcoming business strategy challenges:

1. Focus strategy on short- and long-range targets. On a military shooting range, a soldier shoots at incremental targets set from 25 to 300 meters away. First, they take out the 25-meter target because it represents an immediate threat, then they keep shooting the targets until they end with the farthest target.

“Eventually,” Foley said, “the 300-meter target becomes the 25-meter threat because it’s moving toward you constantly. Strategy must focus both on the immediate and the future threats and opportunities.”

In short, think and plan for the long term, while delivering commitments in the near term.

2. Align and monitor your strategy’s execution. The alignment of your business strategy with essential functions of the organization is an important way to capture value. Jim Horan, author and CEO of the One Page Business Plan Co., said, “CEOs want to ensure that the executive strategies created at the top are known and aligned with the sales reps throughout their company.” It’s one way to give teeth to the strategic choices you make.

But remember, market forces will change. Your business strategy must be aligned with sales, but marketing, customer service, human resources and operations also must be aligned if you want to adapt to changing environments.

3. Create strategy, then edit it down to the core. One of the challenges to create useful strategy is to communicate it clearly throughout the ranks. Since employees must execute your business strategy, it’s crucial to keep it simple and clear. If it’s not, it can point to a flawed strategy. Let’s face it, 100-slide presentations are just overbearing. “The Mind of The Strategist” author Kenichi Ohmae said, “The inability to articulate a strategy in a single, incisive, natural-sounding sentence is a sure sign that there is something wrong in the strategy itself.”

4. Get younger leaders involved early. Foley stresses the importance of involving younger leaders. “It takes a long time to be really good at strategic planning, setting strategy and goals,” he said. “Bring upcoming leaders into your discussions, let them observe, listen and take part.”

Creating a culture that values strategy, planning and execution strengthens the organization’s core capabilities. Making strategy clear and simple will help engage everyone.

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at


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