All strategy starts with a vision.
Vision comes from the CEO. From one person’s eyes to their heart to their brain to their mouth.
Vision is the message CEOs share with the world.
The fuel is passion, the fire is others buying in. And the gift is positive change.
The gift, however, needs a strategy.
And at the end of the day, the CEO is responsible for the execution of their vision.
“You can’t write a strategy by committee.”
– Michael Lewis, from The Premonition
We are led to believe that strategy is a collaborative effort.
And to a certain extent that is true. Inputs can and should come from everywhere.
However, it is the CEO’s ultimate responsibility to write and execute strategy.
It is the board’s responsibility to hold the CEO accountable to that strategy.
So, how do you develop a top-line strategy?
If not familiar with the 5 Whys exercise, it is essentially a tactic you can use to get to the root cause of something by asking why five times. Even for “common” knowledge like the sky is blue or the grass is green. It helps you better understand, to learn, to test your hypotheses. And your vision is a well-composed hypothesis.
Peter Drucker famously said that “The two most important functions of a business are Innovation and Marketing.” This is, if you use the 5 Whys exercise, demonstrably correct.
And if we slightly relabel these two items, it actually provides a framework: Instead of innovation, build; and instead of marketing, acquire.
If you really think about it, your vision statement is really a build and acquire statement, with a date attached.
By some date, we will build something cool and acquire an attractive audience.
What’s interesting, if you think about it, is that each of these assumptions requires two more actionable assumptions.
Let me use an example. My example. Here is part of the vision: “Meso will have a location in every state.” That’s a build statement. But let’s go a level deeper. What do we need to build and acquire to accomplish this?
The answer is a strategy.
A possible answer might be that to have a location in every state I’d need to build an operational playbook. And that I would need to acquire the physical locations.
On the acquisition side of the vision statement, using my example, we need to then acquire America’s burrito-fusion fans. Let’s go a level deeper. What do we need to build and acquire to accomplish this?
Well, we very likely would need to build a brand that communicates the burrito-fusion promise we want to deliver on. And we would likely need to acquire advertising channels (paid and unpaid) to share that brand out through.
What we just walked through is a 5 Whys/Peter Drucker Frankenstein exercise that helps us quickly develop top-level strategy.
Of course, as we continue to analyze each answer using the same “what do I need to build and acquire?” filter, four more times, we’ll also walk ourselves through our goals, tactics, and finally resources needed to accomplish the plan. A discussion for another post.
But back to top-level strategy… Using my restaurant example: “To accomplish this, we will build a world-class operations playbook and brand, while acquiring top-tier properties and prime advertising opportunities.”
The best place to start is: “To accomplish this we will” + what you will build + what you will acquire to accomplish your vision
And like vision, one sentence, typically ~20 words, speakable in a breath or two.
At this point, you have the entire body of a strategic pitch: Intro (a brief hook or explaination) + Mission + Values + Vision + Strategy
To help you see where and how strategy completes our pitch, and give you a good example, here’s mine:
Meso is a high-end, full-service Mexican-fusion restaurant chain. Our mission is to change American’s lives, one curiously delicious burrito at a time. We value growth and we act with speed. By 2030, Meso will have a location in every state, scratching my, and everyone else’s, itch for burrito-fusion. To accomplish this, we will build a world-class operations playbook and brand, while acquiring top-tier properties and prime advertising opportunities.
Now go spark that revolution.