Five Key Questions Creating Long Term Strategy

Long-term strategy can help you see beyond the powerful daily vortex of tactics. This vortex is especially dangerous for start-ups. Launching and growing a business is inherently tactical, so all the more reason to establish a longer view strategy, or more importantly, establish a process within a strategy.

The larger perspective, answers the “why are we doing this?” linking back to meeting the target customer’s need. Next asking “what are we trying to do here” gets you to the specifics of addressing the value proposition.

Answer the big-picture FIVE KEY questions below before tackling the “how we’re going to do this”, “what resources will we need,” and “who are the major and minor players in the game?”

1. How will I define strategy?

This may sound a bit obvious; however, this discovery process will help inform your strategy and keep you grounded when you may be tempted to stray for any number of reasons.

There are many approaches to developing business or marketing strategy. Often this is due to a misunderstanding of exactly what strategy is. One of the best definitions I have found comes from the Booz Allen publication Strategy + business. In their article, Strategy: An Executive’s Definition (note you may be asked to sign up), the authors suggest that strategy is the answer to three questions:

  1. Who is the target customer?
  2. What is the value proposition to that customer?
  3. What are the essential capabilities needed to deliver value proposition?

A great deal of what passes for strategy is really vision or mission. Do your homework and define strategy so you will build on a strong foundation.

2. What is my long-term time horizon?

Why this question? Because long-term can vary considerably based on your business model, on the product life cycle.

For example, if you build apps in the social media space, a year can be long-term whereas a manufacturer could be looking a four to five years based on investments purchase cycles.

Looking at it from a consumer and product/service perspective only gives part of the picture. In addition, the goal of your business pursuit should be defined. Are you seeking a long-term business model, seeking fast growth, aiming to build an empire to last decades?

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3. How will I assure this is a dynamic process?

There is a saying “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” All too often companies spend significant resources compiling strategic documents that are little more than expensive paperweights.

Create a process that will ensure your strategy is reviewed and updated regularly. How often will depend on the time horizon you determine in Step 2. At a minimum, you should review at least once a year.

4. How will I communicate this strategy to all stakeholders?

First, carefully think about your different stakeholders. I suggest you make a list. Employees, other owners, customers are a few obvious ones; but what about your suppliers?

Next you’ll want to tailor the message to each group. What will be the same? What should you emphasize? Remember to craft each message from the perspective of the audience. Invite feedback.

5. How am I paying attention?

Most strategic plans have a S(strengths)W(Weaknesses)O(Opportunities)T (threats) component. This part of the plan is to help you assess your organization within the context of your environment.

There are many ways to monitor the environment these days.  Here is a list of 20 Free tools. http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/09/20-free-social-media-monitoring-tools.html It’s not enough to identify a few handy tools; this needs to be an ongoing practice.

While someone must have ultimate responsibility, how will you encourage feedback and input from all stakeholders?

Summary: You probably noticed that only one of the five questions actually dealt with strategy. That’s because all too often strategy is viewed as someone else’s responsibility; it’s a document, a plan, not a process.

If you are going to invest time and energy in a long-term strategy, then you will want to ensure that it is a mindset more than a planning document. To be relevant, it will have to be adaptable. Done well, it will serve as a meaningful path forward.

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