Strategy is a process of collective inquiry. You’re trying to answer four questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go? Why?
  • How do we get there?

Developing a strategy boils down to answering these four questions. It doesn’t require a special skillset or a convoluted process. However, developing good strategy is a craft, and like all crafts, it takes practice to do well.

Good strategy: Good strategy is NOT:
  • Outlines a vision and a clear set of priorities (including what NOT to do)
  • Provides principles or guideposts that help you make good decisions about how best to achieve your vision and priorities
  • Tells a story
  • A recipe
  • A one-off

The ultimate goal isn’t just to have a good strategy. The goal is to act strategically. This means:

  • Achieving your vision in a way that’s consistent with your values
  • Keeping the Big Picture in mind while doing your day-to-day tasks
  • Being proactive rather than constantly putting out fires
  • Saying no to things that aren’t priorities
  • Doing all of the above in alignment with everyone in your group.

This requires a learning process where you’re constantly aligning, acting, and reflecting. It also requires strong strategic muscles and good habits. These habits include:

  • Pausing. This includes simply taking a breath in the moment while you’re in the thick of things to making time for more extended strategic conversations.
  • Asking, “Why?” In the moment, it means reminding yourself of why you’re doing something. In times of reflection, it means going even deeper by asking “why?” repeatedly.
  • Compensating for your blind spots. This requires the self-awareness to know what your blind spots are, both individual and collective, and proactively getting other perspectives and trying other techniques to counter your cognitive biases.

Developing Good Strategy

How do you develop good strategy while also building your muscles to act strategically?

Start by tracking your questions. (You can use the Strategy / Culture Bicycle to do this.) Keep these questions in front of you as often as possible. Constantly refer to it, show it to others, and — most importantly — update it.

Discuss the most important questions with your group, and start penciling in your answers. Inevitably, more questions will crop up. Track those too. Pay attention to the kinds of questions you’re asking, and make adjustments accordingly. For example, if you have lots of questions that are about where you are now, but few questions about where you want to go, start asking and exploring more future-oriented questions to balance out your inquiry.

Questions not only help you get more clear, they invite ideas from others. You should always involve as many stakeholders as possible in your strategy process. You should also include outside perspectives as a way to counter groupthink. More perspectives lead to better thinking. Those who participate will also feel greater ownership over the outcomes.

This is all hard, but necessary work. Struggling builds ownership and muscles. Don’t try to outsource this process. Instead, treat strategy work as practice. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. This Crawl / Walk / Run / Fly diagram shows the developmental path for acting strategically:

Reflection Questions

How much time do you spend with your group collecting and discussing strategic questions?

How are you tracking these evolving questions and answers?

Who is responsible for tracking these questions and answers and for making space to discuss them?

How are you testing possible answers to these questions?

What are you doing to compensate for your blind spots?

How clearly does your strategy articulate what NOT to do?

How emotionally compelling is your strategy?

How often are you revisiting, refining, and updating your strategy?

Where are you on the Crawl / Walk / Run / Fly spectrum above? What could you do to advance to the next level?

See Also


Thanks to the following for their helpful feedback: