​A strategy built for success

By: Alison Coleman, 30 November 2023 Categories: Organisational vision & strategy

We recently asked our audience, via a LinkedIn poll, what type of content they would be most keen to see. The standout winner was an article on building a winning strategy, so here we go! Over to our Managing Director, Nicki Kavanagh for her top tips…

Let’s start at the beginning. To be effective, a business needs to be clear in its purpose (its reason for being) and then build a strategy to deliver it. The strategy needs to be underpinned by the values and behaviours that shape the organisation’s culture and ways of working.

Having a strategy holds us to account – just as we look at our financials monthly, quarterly, and annually, we should be doing the same with our strategy. It enables us to ask, what is the objective of this project? Does it help us achieve our strategic objectives? Following a strategy adds rigour to our internal processes - you don't just do something because you've always done it that way, or because someone had a bright idea; you do it because it's the right thing to do to help you in achieving your strategic goals.

For me, a winning strategy needs to be:

  • Straightforward and easy to understand – it needs to simply clarify why you are here and what makes the most difference to your business or organisation
  • Iterated and well considered – it doesn’t just happen in a few hours; you need to allow time to reflect and review. When we facilitate workshops, we get the senior team to revisit what they have agreed at least two or three times to be sure everyone is on board with what has been created
  • Created collaboratively – stronger strategies will include input from the people who must make the plans work. Engaging your staff in determining your values and behaviours enables them to understand the contribution they are making toward the achievement of the vision
  • Able to stand the test of time – you need to be able to stick to your strategy as the business moves forward. Reviewing it regularly (e.g. quarterly) will help ensure it remains current.

Getting started

When we work with a company to develop its vision and strategy, we use a one-page planning process designed to align everyone toward common goals. It starts with defining the company’s vision. Once the vision is agreed upon, we move on to the values, which underpin the culture of the organisation. The values should include input from as many staff as possible. From there, identify what is critical to the success of the organisation. ‘Critical success factors’ reflect the key things required to achieve the vision, and the strategies will flow from these.

These three elements – vision, values, and critical success factors – form the Compass or the ‘north’ and should guide all decisions that are made. Once you have created your compass you can begin to form your strategic goals, these are long-term objectives grouped according to the critical success factors. The final component is to come up with KPIs - hard measurements, that can be regularly visited to ensure goals are being achieved and the vision realised.

If I think about the companies we have created strategies for over the years, such as The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA), the British Equestrian Federation, the Bolesworth Estate, Harwoods Group, NFSCo, and The Duchy of Cornwall, what is characteristic about all of these organisations is that they spent a lot of time, focus and energy on considering, What is our north? The vision doesn’t appear immediately. It seems obvious when it does come together, but it takes time. It’s a bit like the well-known Mark Twain quote really, “I apologise for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

I've looked at so many vision statements now over the years and what makes the good ones stand out is that they are unique. If you took the name of the company off, you would still recognise it as being unique to them. The real test for me though is, does it enliven you? When the Duchy got to Sustainable stewardship for communities, enterprise, and nature, I could actually feel my heart rate increasing by looking at it! It took a while to get there, but now the whole organisation is standing behind this one sentence, which encompasses what they are all about. It's so impressive and so powerful.

A team effort

Values matter a huge amount because they capture how we behave, particularly in today's environment where integrity, honesty, transparency, and care for people and the environment matter so much. How we treat each other is all part of the Compass - if we were going to ride a sled to the North Pole driven by Huskies (or reindeer, as I know someone's going to be busy doing fairly soon!), how we treated the people on the sled and how we treated our team of Huskies would have an impact on how, or indeed, if, we got there.

For me, values are often forgotten as a key element of a strategy. It can be a case of, Oh yeah, values. We'll deal with that later. We'll get the executives to come up with a few buzz words”. But when values are created by the staff, you're putting the mirror up to your organization and therefore it's hugely authentic.

The values-setting process presents an opportunity to be more inclusive and for more people to feel part of the organisation. You need to be prepared to accept what they come up with, though, and not to try to adjust them so that they remain authentic and tangible to those who created them.

I think one of the things I've been most proud of in running this business for 22 years, is the work we did with The Duchy of Cornwall where we involved over 100 people in a values exercise. Because they're spread all over the UK, we were able to optimize technology and MS Teams to make sure everyone had the opportunity to be involved. The fact that so many people were able to contribute created a long-standing legacy for The Duchy.

Keep it current

How often should you review your strategy? I'd say you need to do an annual review of your compass to make sure that you are still on course and heading north. As we know, if you go just a few degrees off track, you’re probably never going to make it. Reviewing it three years in, in today's volatile and changing world, is not enough. We live in a technology-enabled, agile environment where anything could disrupt the markets that we work in. When we consider that strategies used to be built for five years, there's no way that would work today.

As well as an annual review of the overarching plan, I advise at least a quarterly review of your objectives to consider whether you're on track to achieve them. If you don't review objectives more frequently than annually, you can only expect to move by small degrees. What happens if you don't achieve your objectives? I would say it’s a missed opportunity to have adjusted them sooner...

Watch this space for further insights on strategy in action, early in 2024.

More examples of our work on vision and strategy can be found on the client pages of our website here, https://www.thejuniperco.co.uk/clients. We recommend looking at the case studies for BIBA, Harwoods Group, and The Duchy of Cornwall.

If focusing on your strategy is something you’re considering for 2024, we would be very happy to provide anything from structure to support, advice, and/or facilitation. We can provide an outside perspective, some added checks, challenge, and rigour. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help.

Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash