On this episode of Dear Strategy, we answer the following question…
“How do you balance the creation of a long-term strategic plan with the resources needed to execute it?”
After 114 episodes, I’m bound to repeat myself more than a few times. And, in the case of today’s question (or, more accurately, today’s answer), that is most definitely going to be the case.
Back in Episode 109, I talked about companies that dream big but don’t back those dreams up with the resources (and the realities) that they need to make those dreams come true.
Back in Episode 92, I talked about the 5 biggest product strategy pitfalls to avoid; one of which was making the assumption that you will be able to implement your strategy for free. (That, by the way, was my first award winning blog post!)
And all the way back in Episode 7, I talked about the importance of making sure that your goals can actually be achieved.
In all of these posts, by the way, I suggested that management needed to stop telling people to “just make it happen” and, instead, start supporting their goals and strategies with the resources needed to turn them into realities. It should come as no surprise, then, that I plan on referring to that exact same sentiment here again – but this time with a little added twist…
The main issue at hand here is that, if given the choice, most companies would probably prefer to achieve all of their lofty goals and aspirations without having to spend one thin dime. And, because of this, it becomes all too tempting for some companies to believe that, by barking a bunch of orders at their employees, they’ll simply be able to “will” their strategies into place. Of course this almost never works, which is exactly why we need to talk about it…
The key to my answer, as correctly noted in the question, lies in the word “balance.” Strategy is an equation. And, like any equation, there are always going to be two sides to consider. And those two sides will always need to be equal in order for the equation to be true.
On one side of the strategy equation is what you want to achieve. On the other side of the equation is what you’re going to need in order to achieve it. For example, if you want to double your sales on one side of the equation, you’re going to have to represent a significant amount of energy and/or money on the other side of the equation in order to do it. If you don’t spend the time or money, you won’t get the sales. It’s pretty much as simple as that.
What’s not quite as simple, however, is determining how much you need to invest above and beyond what you already have available to you. And that’s where the debate between “investing in additional resources” vs. “pushing your existing resources harder” usually comes in.
If leaders feel that their teams are underperforming, they’re likely to push for the concept of simply requiring their existing resources to “work harder.” Meanwhile, if that team feels like they’re already working at full capacity, then they’re likely to push for their company to invest in additional resources. Both positions add up to having “more overall resources,” but the way in which you get there is very, very different.
So how does one solve for this side of the equation? Here are a few tips that might help:
If you’re an employee who is putting together a strategy to present to your leadership team, make sure that you clearly outline not only your goals, not only your actions, but also exactly what additional time, money, and resources will be required to make your overall strategy work. When you do this, make sure you take an honest look at whatever resources you currently have available (even if one of those resources is you), and ask yourself, “Do we truly have the right people?” “Are they all truly working at full capacity?” “Do they have all the tools and training they need to do their jobs effectively?” These are all honest questions that need to be answered before you ask your company to invest in additional personnel.
Once you’ve done this analysis in a truly open and honest way, then you need to not be afraid to ask for the order. And the way to do that is to make sure you understand exactly how each of your investments will ultimately contribute to the achievement of your strategic goals. In other words, make sure you have a very clear investment roadmap that aligns with your strategic actions, and be prepared to talk about how each investment relates to each specific aspect of your plan. So if, for example, you’re asking for 10 more people, you need to make sure that you fully understand what the impact on your plan will be if you can only get 5 of those people. And please, whatever you do, don’t assume that you’re only going to get 5 to begin with! The very worst thing you can do as a strategist is to short-change your plan with an assumption of what you think your company will have an appetite to spend. Instead, you should build your plan based on what you think you’re going to need in order to achieve your goals, and then let your company come back and tell you what they’re actually willing to invest.
If you’re on the company side of this discussion, you need to encourage your employees to develop plans not based on what you want to see, but based on what they want to see. In other words, encourage them to build their strategies in a totally unbiased way. And that doesn’t just mean saying the words. Because if you continue to “scold” your employees every time they bring you aggressive investment plans, they’re eventually just going to stop bringing you those plans altogether; no matter how many times you ask. Remember that it’s the unspoken directions that people generally react to, which also happen to be the directions you’re not even aware that you’re giving.
So, in the end, it’s not just a balance between strategy and resources, it’s a balance between the resources you already have and the resources that your company is willing to invest in. That’s the real conversation that needs to be had. And you’ll find that if it is, in fact, a conversation, you’ll have a much better chance of matching the resource side of your equation to whatever it is that you actually want to achieve.
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 114
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Bob Caporale is the founder of Strategy Generation Company, the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.