How does a new CEO write Strategy? First, she gets her mind right. Here’s how.
Big Red Car here expecting Hurricane Harvey this weekend. Likely won’t get to the ATX until Tuesday. Whoa, Nellie!
Pray for those along the Gulf Coast who will be dealing with the first hurricane to hit Texas since Ike in 2008. Governor Abbott has already designated thirty Texas coastal counties as disaster areas. The Feds are already pouring into the fray. Well played, FEMA.
So, the Big Red Car is constantly talking to CEOs about their Strategy — the Strategy for their company. It is, sometimes, a confusing and disjointed talk.
We see CEOs having no problem with Vision and Mission, but the second it turns to documenting their Strategy, things go haywire.
The objective today is to get you in the right frame of mind to write your Strategy. Not to write it, but just get into the right frame of mind to be able to write it.
What is strategy?
1. Strategy belongs to the leadership and is the view from 30,000 feet which converts the Vision and Mission into action. It transforms ideas into an action plan. Action.
2. Tactics belongs to the management and department heads. It is the view from 10,000 feet and converts Strategy into functional and departmental objectives.
3. Objectives are assigned by management and department heads to individuals and are specific deliverables enunciated in the Tactics. Objectives are “boots on the ground.”
Objectives are SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time constrained. [Pro tip: the attainment of objectives is the critical yardstick held up to personal performance. Your Performance Appraisal system ties into Objectives. Make this so.]
As writers and storytellers, we are all told to “write what we know” which identifies the problem — CEOs, new CEOs particularly, don’t know much about Strategy. So, they freeze up.
Let the Big Red Car help you get your mind right about writing your Strategy.
Do not “write what you know.” Write what you can imagine based on what you know.
Say to yourself, “This is just a first draft. Nobody will see it but me. I can use my imagination to fill in what I really don’t know. I know how to use the DELETE button. This is going to be fine. Here we go!”
If you do that, you will start to be in the right frame of mind to begin writing your Strategy.
In the balance between imagination and knowing, the mix will be in the order of 10:1 — meaning you will throw in ten parts of imagination for every part of precise knowledge.
This ratio is even true for serial entrepreneurs. They may be more comfortable about the challenge because they have done it before, but they are trying out a new hypothesis, so it still requires imagination.
When I talk to CEOs about crafting their Strategy, this seems to help as it empowers them to blunder forward without having to actually know the end game.
Here are some specific tips which may be helpful:
1. Constantly repeat, “This is just a first draft and it can be revised, edited, rewritten a lot before it is finalized.” [Guess what? It will be and each time it will get better and better.]
2. Before you begin ,grab a bunch of index cards and write out some “beats” — ideas you think will be part of the Strategy. Do not try to make them orderly; make them random and a stream of consciousness. Later, you can organize them. Writing out beats absorbs the nervous energy and feels like progress, because it is. This is a writer’s trick when they feel blocked.
3. Listen to the voices in your head. I find the voices in my head have a lot of great ideas. Listen to them. Close you eyes and tell them, “Voices, speak up. The floor is yours.”
4. You have to find, uncover, discover, invent your Strategy. You cannot Google it or buy it on Amazon, but you can find it, uncover it, discover it, invent it. Right now, you do not actually know your Strategy. That is why you have to write it, to discover it. It is a journey of discovery, not a tech manual.
5. Remember that Strategy is the conversion of Vision and Mission into action. It is not a recitation of “ideas;” it is action. Sure, it’s action from 30,000 feet, but it has to move the effort in some direction. Action.
6. You cannot know the future. Nobody can. This is why you have to imagine it. One cannot know what has never happened, but one can imagine a world in which your hypothesis, your idea works. Imagine that future.
7. It is harder to start a story than it is to end a story. Your Vision and Mission are the end. Start at the end and walk the cat backwards to the beginning.
8. Pick a day, time, and sit down to write. Make an hour long appointment with yourself. OK, do the prep work we’ve identified above, but commit to do it. Work for one hour and then stop. Stop when you still know what you intend to write next.
At the end of the first such appointment, make your next appointment. It will get easier and easier.
9. You will write, revise, edit, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, edit, rewrite until your Strategy begins to be coherent. You are not looking, initially, for “good.” You are just looking for coherent.
Later, you will say, “Hey, this pretty damn good.” Right now, let’s just get our heads right.
10. Do not show your Strategy to anyone until you think you are almost there. Then identify the right people — not your colleagues and not your board and not your mother. This bit of wisdom will not be used until you are finished, but I want you to think about it before you start writing so you can see where this leads.
Let me give you a quick overview of how things might look at their simplest.
Imagine you are Winston Churchill and your army has just been whipped by the Germans. The lads are home from Dunkirk without their weapons and you have a begrudging respect for the ass whipping the Krauts administered on the other side of the Channel. You are sorely disappointed in your and the French army who collectively outnumbered the Germans, who outfought your boys.
You have given your “fight you on the beaches” speech and now the enormity of the challenge begins to press down on you. So, since you are a winner, you begin to map out your Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, and Objectives.
Vision — a free Europe and England absent of the evil of Nazis
Mission — free Europe and England by armed assault
Strategy — rebuild the English army into a fighting force capable of defeating the Germans in open combat, invade the Continent, destroy the German army, use airpower to take the fight to their Homeland, build an alliance with those pesky Americans, put pressure on the Germans from England, Russia, North Africa, the soft underbelly
Tactics — beg the Americans for weapons, get the Americans into the war on our side, kiss FDR’s ass, reorganize the army, re-equip the army, learn from the experience in France what we have to do to beat the Germans, train the army to fight and win, bomb the snot out of German industry to preclude their supporting their own army, invade North Africa to stretch the German army to a breaking point, develop a theory and an action plan for amphibious warfare, train an officer corps which can throw off the defeatist attitude of Dunkirk
Objectives — draw up an invasion plan for landing on the Continent by date certain while identifying the minimum force level; grow the army to that level; invade North Africa to obtain experience fighting Krauts; build a fleet of landing craft capable of landing men, tanks, and artillery in large formations to ensure not being driven back into the sea; rehearse landings; appoint aggressive commanders who will attack, pursue, destroy German formations; pick a date, conduct an invasion of France; drive on to Berlin; kill Hitler
One may quibble that one or another of these things falls into some other heading, but remember they are part of a coherent whole.
Now, dear CEO, let’s just get you in the right frame of mind to start. That’s all. Say, “Hey, I can do this. My mind is right. I’m not frozen anymore. I have more imagination than Walt Disney. Here we go. Whoa, Nellie.”
And, that dear CEO, is how the cow eats the cabbage.