Keep it simple

When one thinks about ‘organization strategy’, a 50 slide deck with complicated graphs and 20 colors comes to mind. Somehow we imagine strategy to be a scary beast that seasoned management arrives at after careful research and planning. That is why most of us find it hard to articulate our company strategy. We save the deck away carefully after the presentation and only open it a year later to try and remember what was articulated and how we can make the numbers look like we got there.

Honestly, what could be farther from strategy? The core purpose of strategy is to align organizations, rally them behind the vision and have it executed by every rung of the organization. How will you achieve all that by something that can’t even be explained in a conversation?

Real strategy is simple. It is something that “the doorman understands”, as Subroto Bagchi says in his book, The Elephant Catchers. His idea is simple too – strategy needs to be something so simple that everyone gets it. Only then can people get behind it. Because the proof of a good strategy is in its execution, and for that you need the organization aligned 100%.

But more important than being simple, continues Bagchi, a great strategy is an act of emotion. It is far-fetched, it is unreasonable, and it is powerful. Only then will it be memorable. Only then will it stir up the troops, because the battle to scale is not an easy one.

I am sold on this concept. I think an obvious corollary of this idea is the immense importance of actually having a strategy – a vision. An idea so simple and powerful that it gets everyone pedaling in the same direction, overcoming all the fears and apprehensions of scale and change. No one every got inspired by senior management locked up in a room and deciding on the company’s 5-year plan while everyone went along with business as usual. But with a leader who clearly articulates the one thing that the company needs to achieve as a team, repeats it at every occasion and to every employee – well, now we’re in business, quite literally.

2 thoughts on “Keep it simple

  1. Hello Esha, thank you for this article! I think you are absolutely right: It should be really simple, so that everybody can remember it. As Jack Welsh says it: If you wake up your people in the middle of the night, and they must immediately know what your company is trying to achieve. But then again, it is super-hard to be inspiring and simple at the same time. If it is very simple, there is always the danger that it gets too trivial. I mean, who still gets inspired by “We want to become the Nr 1 or 2 in a market”? So what? What’s in it from that for me if we achieve it (maybe a bonus – but then, is a bonus inpiring or only bribing you to do what management wants rather than believing in it?)? Or, expressing strategy as financial objectives: €10Bn in profit till 2020. Yeah, cool – good for you, Mr. CEO, when you achieve it and the financial world celebrates you, but…? So, I wonder: What is the simple message that can really inspire your employees these days (granted – if you are not an NGO or maybe a start up)? I have just been thinking for the last 15 minutes what a company could offer me as a one liner that would inspire and motivate me and I cannot come up with any. What comes to my mind are only negative examples that pretend that a company is not about making money, but helping people with its product. Seriously, making the world a better place with pizza, shampoo, make up, etc.? Which employee believes that anyway? Maybe, in a big corporation, it is something else that inspires me to do my best: Whether my superiors treat me with respect, how my ideas are valued and what opportunities I get to develop. That is worth more for my motivation than any one liner strategy or bold vision.

    • Thanks for the introspection here, Ulrike. I agree with you – crafting a simple, inspiring strategy is hard. That’s why we see so little of it. But you know, a simple strategy doesn’t necessarily mean a simple idea. You could have an incredibly hard execution and organization alignment that germinates from a simple strategy. For example, I was reading about HUL CEO Paul Poleman – he set this vision for the company: double revenue by 2020 while reducing carbon footprint to 2010 levels. It’s a simple statement, one that everyone can internalize. But can you imagine what this entails at an execution level? Changing up the entire manufacturing back-end to meet that target, while innovating on the revenue model. Which touches on the second point I mentioned in my post – strategy must come from a place of emotion. People must feel part of a larger purpose and feel driven toward it, if they are to internalize the message and implement it in all their decisions. Another oft-quoted example is Mahatma Gandhi – a seemingly simple strategy of non-cooperation, but far from simple in execution and with incredibly powerful results.

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