A hidden key to 2016 strategy planning

Strategy Planning

Hopefully you’ve already done some 2016 strategy planning for whatever size business you work at or run — because, you know, we’re halfway through Month II of the year at this point — but even if you have, you can use some of these concepts to shift a little bit on your thinking. (Hopefully.) Let’s dive in.

Back in June 2015, I wrote a post entitled ‘A Great Quote on the New World of Business,’ and said quote — from a venture capitalist female (talk about a unicorn!), was this:

“Most things that people want already exist, and with Amazon or eBay there is always someone who is willing to undercut your price,” she says. “But what does work is when a company focuses on delivering an amazing experience. This means having a high attention to detail around the product, thinking about how customers feel when they land on the homepage, considering what the package looks like when it arrives in the mail. I’m looking for companies that are set up to win on those levels.”

OK. So Tier I of strategy planning has to revolve around the customer experience. I don’t care if you call it UX, CX, customer journey, journey mapping, persona marketing, or whatever else. Your first core tenet is on how your people (your “brand”) interacts with customers. At this point, customer experience is more important than the brand itself.

Customer experience is Step 1 in strategy planning. What’s next?

If you know customer experience is crucial — as opposed to racing around between e-mails and meetings screaming about ‘power branding,’ which many older-school executives tend to do — then you need to figure out a way to make sure that you’re consistently delivering on customer experience to the point of getting repeats, returns (not returns of your product, but return customers), and brand ‘advocates.’ That’s the entire goal, yea?

But as the Kellogg School at Northwestern explains, ’tis hard:

“The question for organizations is how they can adapt what they do well while also changing what they don’t do well,” says Gregory Carpenter, a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Market Leadership at Kellogg. “Every organization develops a culture based on past experiences, and then they’re faced with a new reality. And that new reality is digital.

Here’s what that pull quote means when broken down:

  • “This stuff over here makes us money.”
  • “We’re starting to lose that advantage because of easy-to-implement technology and shifting sales funnels.”
  • “We should consider growing and adapting.”
  • “On the other hand, we could cling to the revenue models we understand like someone floating in the Pacific on a log.”

That’s a serious four-part convo that a lot of executives face right now. Their goal is to make money and drive revenue and growth (in most organizations). They fear being viewed as incompetent, and the surest path to being viewed that way is to screw up on the financial/money metrics side. So they prioritize there.

At most places — not all — digital isn’t there yet as a revenue driver. So most execs cling to what they know and what has made them money in the past, which is typically older-school stuff like ‘power branding’ and ‘ad buys’ and ‘sales cold calling’ or ‘sales targets.’ All those aspects have a place in strategy planning, but … it’s not exactly the 2016 model you want to be chasing, you know?

So here’s where we’re at now:

  • Customer experience should be the priority
  • But we can’t just pivot to that as a focus without realizing we need to make money
  • How do we balance this dance?

The hidden key of strategy planning

Take a deep breath, because if you’re an old-school hard-charger, this will make you cringe.

The key is culture. It’s your people. It’s how you align them. It’s where the purpose lies.

Wait, what?

Let me give you a quote from Northwestern to get this going:

“To be adept at digital, you have to be fast, you have to be agile, you have to be decentralized and less structured, and you have to have more cooperation and trust,” Carpenter says. “The big challenge organizations face is transforming themselves from hierarchical and centralized to more collaborative and trusting.”

I’ve mentioned this before in a post called ‘4 Ways You Need To Think About Changing Your Company,’ and it’s true as all get-out. If you want to compete in a world that’s digital/social, and in a world where more people have more choices and can guide their product choices with self-learning, you need to abandon the old command-and-control, rank-and-yank, seat-time-is-everything culture you probably understand. The whole deal is:

  • Loosen up hierarchy and make it a bit more collaborative
  • Loosen up centralized and make it a bit more trusting

Of course, this is terrifying for most managers — whose brains are wired to predict threats, who fear incompetence themselves, who potentially don’t understand what being a manager means, and who are likely heads-down chasing targets without regard for organizational priority.

So we need to shift from ‘Model A’ (Old-School) to ‘Model B’ (New-School), but the biggest challenge is the people we have in the middle as managers. Hmm.

The only way you can shift strategy is by shifting culture. Let me elaborate.

  • Financial metrics aren’t long-term strategy planning advantages, because of ideas like ‘disruption’ or ‘market shifts’
  • The only long-term strategy planning ‘play’ is how your people (internally) deal with your clients/customers (externally)
  • To do strategy planning better, you need to get your culture right

How do you get your culture right for strategy planning?

I’ll start with one final quote from Northwestern:

“In the past, developing a strategy was like making a movie, where you could script everything,” says Carpenter. “Today, it’s much more like improv, and people who are good at making movies aren’t necessarily good at improv. In the more decentralized world, leadership isn’t about dictating. It’s more about developing a shared vision. That’s one reason you see so many more organizations focusing beyond making money on meaning. That focus helps everyone feel more connected to the core mission of the organization.”

Will Smith movie was the 1992 model. The 2016 model is Saturday Night Live. See the difference?

And remember: a guy like Will Smith can host SNL. So the talent sets are there. They just need to be tweaked a little bit.

If you want to align culture for better strategy planning, let me give it you straight on what you need:

  • To actually care about culture and not just money
  • To care about people and their development

That’s it.

Two steps.

Two big steps, but just two steps.

If you’re confused about Step 1, read this: essentially, profits are the result of organizational actions; they’re not the goal. Many, many people miss that one.

If you’re confused about Step 2, read this: people want to be respected at work about 2x more than they want to be balling out with Benjamins (salary).

So while this may be vomit-inducing for the old-school hard-charging revenue types like Big Dick Sales Targets Larry, well, this is the way of the world now. Adapt or die, am I right?

Your strategy planning comes from how you can move through decisions and priorities — and that, in turn, comes directly from your people and your culture.

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Ted Bauer