If It Doesn’t Solve Your Problems, It’s Weak Strategy

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Let’s begin with a simple truth:

Every business has problems.

Those problems may be internal or external (often both).  They may be created by others or self-inflicted.  They may be present-day certainties or future possibilities.

But there’s no business anywhere that is blissfully free of challenges, obstacles, changes… problems.

You and your competitors are fighting for a few precious slots of retail shelf space? Problem.

Customer satisfaction is declining? Problem.

Technology will change your industry in an as-yet-undetermined way? Problem.

Your employees aren’t on board with your brand vision? Problem.

Theranos had bigger problems than most.

A primary purpose of the strategic planning process is to identify your biggest problems and devise credible plans by which to solve them.

In fact, one simple test for your strategic plan is right there in the title of this post.  Before you declare your plan “final,” before you roll it out at the company meeting, before you start investing those precious resources…

Take a beat.  Review what you’ve created.  And ask whether you truly believe it will solve your biggest problems.

If it doesn’t solve your problems, it’s weak strategy.

In other words, something went wrong in the strategic planning process.  And something needs to be fixed in the plan.  (Perhaps many things.)

It sounds simple enough, but one difference between winning organizations and the wanna-bes is this:

Winning organizations face and solve their problems.

Take Theranos, the one-time Silicon Valley “unicorn” whose rise and fall I’m a little obsessed with.

Theranos made a bold promise: That a very small sample of blood, when placed in its proprietary machines, could provide rapid diagnoses of dozens of medical conditions.

It was not suffering from lack of ambition.  It also suffered from a lack of feasibility.  In short, it was impossible. The concept simply didn’t work.

Theranos didn’t face its core problem.  It did, however, falsify lab reports to maintain the illusion of performance – which is to say it was playing with peoples’ lives.  Theranos stacked lies upon lies, until its house of cards came crashing down.

It’s no mean feat to take your market cap from $10 billion to zero in less than four years.  Theranos managed to pull it off.

A 1980 Olds Cutlass Supreme. This is a pretty dope ride!

Or take Oldsmobile.  Oldsmobile was once known as a classic American muscle car.  Check the 1980 Olds Cutlass Supreme in the picture – this beast meant business!  It also took up a lot of space and a lot of gas.

Things changed.  Gas got more expensive.  New competitors entered the market.  Consumers didn’t accept many of the newer models that Olds rolled out in response.  

In some ways, Olds was trapped by its past successes.  Toward the end of its life, Olds tried to “hip up” its brand with promotional stunts like slicing its cars in half and attaching them to skyscrapers.  (It looked as desperate as it sounds.)

Nothing worked.  After 107 years as an American brand, Oldsmobile shuttered in 2004.

Theranos didn’t face its problems.  Oldsmobile didn’t solve its problems.  Bad things happen to companies that don’t face and solve their problems.

Don’t be like them.

Weak strategy dodges your biggest problems and avoids your toughest choices. 

Strong strategy faces those problems and presents a plan to solve them. 

Ask & Act:

  • Is your strategic planning process largely about “going through the motions”?  Does your strategic plan merely update last year’s plan, without thinking deeply about what has changed and could change?
  • Does a diagnosis of current and future problems feature early in your strategic planning process?
  • Does the diagnosis represent a variety of inputs and perspectives from across the organization?
  • Are you defining problems and potential problems along several timelines?  (Ex: Today, 0-2 years, 2-5 years, 5-10 years, 10+ years)
  • Does the diagnosis prioritize the largest problems?
  • Does the strategic plan address the largest problems?
  • Does the strategic plan address both internal and external factors?
  • Does the strategic plan address all stakeholders – most importantly, the humans you exist to serve?

Want to build strategies that face & solve your biggest challenges?  We can help.  Click here to find out more about our strategic services or click here to contact us.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He’s based near Portland, in Oregon wine country.

Copyright 2019 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.