Elements of Strategy, Part 5: The Walking Dead

The words, "The End" against a colourful backdrop.
...but not really.

Part five of a series, “Elements of Strategy.” Check back each week for more insights.

I remember seeing a contract posting for a digital strategist, which was pretty formulaic, except for one line:

“Once the strategy is finished, you will….” I forget the rest, but I remember thinking, “What the hell does that mean: ‘once the strategy is finished’?”

I didn’t apply, because of that one line. Because a strategy is never “finished.”

Of course, if you’re getting paid to create one, you’re going to deliver one. That’s reasonable. It’s going to be a document, people are going to look at it, forward it, critique it, and it’ll be “finished.”

That is, the document will be finished; the strategy never will, because a strategy is never “done.”

“Done” = “Dead.”

A plastic Halloween gravestone

The end, my friend. The kitschy, plastic end.

Strategies are like projects in one important way: they change as soon as they’re committed to paper. An organization is constantly evolving: competitors and colleagues come and go, culture shifts, priorities change… everything about it is in flux. A strategy – like a project plan – is a moment in time that describes an organization and its challenges at that moment. It looks to the future, but can’t predict it, because what determines that future is in constant motion

That’s why a strategy is never done: every single thing it depends on refuses to stay “done.” To be useful, a strategy needs to be a living document.

It’s Alive!

A person made up as a zombie

Am I late for the 9:00?

To stay alive, you need to revisit your strategy regularly (at least annually; even better, every six months). Ask yourself these questions:

  • What have you learned about the organization since the last version?
  • What’s changed at the organization and in the competitive landscape?
  • What new technologies have arrived that you can leverage, or which threaten the status quo?
  • What key stakeholders have come and gone? What are their agendas?
  • What worked and what didn’t in the last version?

In the end, all strategy boils down to a simple four-step process:

  • Try things.
  • Do more of what works.
  • Do less of what doesn’t.
  • Rinse & repeat.

Give it a go. And happy iteration.

Is your strategy alive or the walking dead?

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