I remember speaking with a new client about an upcoming strategy meeting. I asked her how they had fared implementing the last strategic plan. She hesitated, and then said: ‘To be honest I can’t quite remember what came out of the last strategy meeting – but I’ll send you the notes.’ When I received the notes I understood why the CEO could not remember. The document contained a list of dot points, presumably taken from flipchart records on the day. There were no identified themes, priorities, no timelines and no next steps. In comparison I was interested to read Westpac's announcement earlier this year about its ambitious plan to reduce its annualised cost base from $12 billion in 2020 to $8 billion in 2024. As reported in the AFR, CEO Peter King had a copy of the strategic approach framed and hanging on his office wall: ‘fix – address outstanding issues; simplify – streamline and focus the business; and perform – sustainable long-term returns' These words distil a major reshaping of the bank’s structure and operations planned over time. Clearly a lot of thought, work and detail went into this plan and yet it is encapsulated in three lines.
Clarity - the unrecognised strategy superpower
People sometimes assume that clarity is just about messaging. Being able to effectively communicate your strategy to staff and stakeholders is very important in successful implementation, but the need for clarity runs much deeper than that. We need to build in clarity throughout strategic planning processes. The process you use needs to ensure you reach:
clarity about your purpose;
clarity about your options; and
clarity about your shared priorities.
So here's the real challenge: If you’ve achieved clarity throughout your planning process, then the communication of the strategy should be easy. Clarity in strategy leads to clear statements about your core purpose, agreements about what matters most and commitments to act. Simple, clear agreements make for simple, clear messages to communicate.