“How long will this strategy work take?”

I was asked this question recently by a harried CEO. The follow-on: “Can we knock this out in an afternoon?” left me momentarily speechless.

The need for speed in our world is understandable. However, “knocking out” the work that creates the foundation for the survival and success of your business isn’t typically something you crank through in an afternoon.

In part, the use and abuse of S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) or similar templates allow people to think that strategy work is something that you crank through mechanically. Note: there is no magical template, framework, or tool that short-circuits the hard work and thinking of strategy.

The work of strategy is some of the most challenging thinking work a firm’s members will do. And truth be told, it’s never really finished. Strategy is a process, not an event, and the work of evaluating, diagnosing, and choosing are never-ending activities.

Strategy work gives teams the filters and frames to assess and make decisions. It also provides the mechanism for turning ideas into actions.

I empathize with the executive’s underlying angst over timing. He’s leading an exciting, entrepreneurial business with nearly endless options and potential vectors. Planning to spend time away from the tornado-like environment of daily operations and opportunities seems unappealing and stressful.

For the very reasons of too many choices and too many opportunities chasing too few resources, is why strategy is needed. Right now, there’s no filter on what to do and what not to do. Every idea seems like a potential winner in isolation.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The question is never, “How long will this strategy work take?” Rather, it’s something in the neighborhood of, “How can we leverage strategy to make smarter yes and no decisions and grow a healthy business?” I advocate an agile approach to strategy with a series of sprints that bring it to life and make it part of the operating scheme of the business. I also teach teams to self-sustain this process. And yes, you can get started in an afternoon, but the work never stops.

Art's Signature