Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Developing a great strategy starts with one key question: what do you want to accomplish as an organization? Once you know the goal – in specificity, not just in squishy, idealistic terms – you can break it down into actionable steps, SMART goals and deadlines. But if you don’t know where you’re headed, then of course you’re not going to get there. 

The next question is: what resources do you have available to get what you want? Who are the team members who can execute against your plan? What time, money and tools will you need? And then finally – and perhaps most importantly – how will you measure and define success? Which metrics or key performance indicators are you going to use to explain your progress to all the different stakeholders at all the different levels within your organization? 

This last component is so important because, anytime you’re going to move strategic thinking, strategic discussions, or strategic plans to execution, you have to be able to align roles and responsibilities from the top of the organization, all the way to the frontline employee.  

If you are in banking, for instance, does your strategy lay out clear expectations that stretch all the way from your board of directors to your tellers? If you’re in retail, are you thinking about communication plans from the C-suite to the sales associate? If you’re in tech, what does your strategy mean for the people in product development, sales, human resources, compliance, marketing, etc?

Perfect your elevator pitch

The other great thing about developing a strategy in this way is that it helps you develop an elevator pitch that says clearly and concisely, “Here’s where we’re headed, here’s why it matters, and here’s how we are going to get there.” Don’t underestimate this important step. Achieving anything big and great means you’re going to need everyone on board, so it’s absolutely critical your strategy can be understood, articulated and repeated. 

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One way to do this is just to talk about your goals with as many people as you can. Over time, repeating yourself will naturally make you more clear and concise. Also, if you aren’t naturally good with words, I recommend running your thoughts and ideas past smart people you know in content and marketing. 

Perfecting your pitch also helps you create clear measures and expectations about what implementation looks like. I see a lot of people break down at this point, because they get stuck in the big ideas and buzzwords like diversity and inclusion or digital transformation. They aren’t taking the time to break things down and be specific about what they want.

Of course, these things are important. But what we’re really talking about, quite frankly, is what does winning look like to you? How do you define success? How do you communicate it to the people you will need to execute against that plan? And, how can you measure it and communicate about it in its simplest possible terms, so everyone in the organization benefits from those strategic conversations?

Strategy is an active term

All good strategies are living, breathing documents. Sometimes, I’ll see leaders go away for strategic offsites, then come back with their big three- to five-year strategy and reveal it to their team as if it’s a finalized document. But the best leaders also talk about how they might shift and pivot that strategy when the markets change or when a great opportunity comes along that the team wasn’t yet expecting and isn’t quite prepared for. How do you seize those opportunities and incorporate them into your living strategy?

Think about the number of growth strategies that had to shift in light of the pandemic. Think about the hiring strategies that had to change in real time because of the Great Resignation. Think about the strategies that have to change right now at this moment, because as an organization, you are expected to have a brand that has a social voice and makes a positive social impact alongside your corporate goals. 

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Because people don’t really discuss how to alter the strategy document once it is live, strategy too often becomes this static thing that you do for a few hours or days or weeks, then it goes away and sits in a drawer. 

Remember: your strategy is a living document. It’s alive. And like any plant, if you want it to grow and thrive over time, you have to feed it, water it, prune it, and keep it out here in the light of day. 

The last point of guidance I would share is that, as leaders, we should make sure to revisit our strategic intent on a quarterly basis to ensure what we are doing, what we are measuring, and what we want in the end still aligns with the strategy we’ve talked about and discussed over time. Developing strategy is a huge piece of your success, but implementation is where the magic happens.

About the Author

Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement which offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. Their microlearning platform, Microvideos by The Diversity Movement, was recently named one of Fast Company’s2022 World Changing Ideas.” With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His memoir on leadership, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely