What are the two or three most important things your organization is currently working on that will make your organization successful?
How would the rest of your company fare at answering that question?
This is the third article in a series I am writing on setting an effective strategy for your organization. I began the series with research showing that 95% of employees are unaware of, or do not understand, their company’s strategy. It’s a staggering number. And if your team doesn’t understand the strategy, you can be assured they aren’t focused on the right priorities to ensure its success.
In the first post I discussed the importance of creating a company worldview to establish the “Why now?” behind your company and strategy that brings your team along. In the second post I explained how to define strategic goals and where you will play. Refer to them first because in this post we’ll discuss how to work on the core of your strategy: defining the strategic initiatives you need to do to accomplish the strategic objectives you set.
I previously defined strategy as the way an organization aligns potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities to create the best possible aspirational outcome. With your strategic goals in mind, you are going to work towards those creating a limited number of strategic initiatives that will become your “How we win” strategy.
I started using the “how we win” approach to strategy early in my career at Intel Corporation. Our focus on strategic planning at every level focused on distilling our actionable strategy down to a handful of things we needed to do very well to win. We called it “How we win.”
Though he had already retired during my time, our approach adhered to the philosophy of former CEO Andy Grove who once said, “The art of management lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them.”
It’s a simple concept, but the easiest way to develop a clear strategy is to decide what few things you need to focus on to get to achieve your defined strategic objectives.
While it may be more than two or three, it shouldn’t be more than five key strategic initiatives that you are going to emphasize to be effective. Remember, these initiatives are not a task list, they are what you will excel at doing in a way that creates a clear and distinct advantage for you, creates value, and provides you with the leverage you need to win with the resources you have. Their leverage makes them force multipliers that will increase your odds of success.
The great mathematician Archimedes asserted, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” The strategic initiatives you select need to create leverage beyond your aggregate capabilities, especially if you are a startup.
These strategic initiatives can come from a variety of areas. If you think about your organization as a collection of the following possible levers, those can include your:
Can you improve on any of these to help you reach your strategic objectives? Your options may be to create a certain expertise, build a platform, hire a specific team, or start a unique sales motion.
In considering options for strategic initiatives you may benefit from referring to the seven strategy statics outlined in Hamilton Helmer’s book 7 Powers which explores ways organizations find enduring sources of value.
Getting to “How we win.” is a team resolution of what you need to focus on, from infinite options, to win. It also involves deciding what you are not going to do. Remember that strategy is about making choices, including those things you won’t do. From the small number of initiatives you create you will later develop the tactical actions you need to take that will drive your focus to reach your strategic goals.
But, staying with your initiatives, how to you get to consensus on what those strategic priorities are? And just as importantly, how do you stop putting so much effort into those things that aren’t helping you?
Assuming that you are not a large corporation with an office of strategy development, it’s incumbent on you to bring your team together to develop your strategic initiatives. And while it’s tempting to create a set of top-down initiatives, you will benefit most by creating process that is broad enough to examine all options and incorporates both bottoms-up input and executive decision making.
I have an exercise that will help you do just that.
Making Strategic Choices: MOPS
The single most effective tool that I have used to determine strategic choices is a MOPS analysis. It’s unlikely that you’ve heard of it because it’s my own creation which I’ve used with dozens of companies. MOPS is a mnemonic for a review exercise that will determine company actions and choices. It stands for:
More or Move faster: What are the things you are doing today that you should double down on (more) or move faster in doing?
Opportunities we are missing: What opportunities are you missing to improve your strategic position? This type of opportunity is different from the market opportunity derived from a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis—it focuses on creating new initiatives and actions that you are not pursuing.
Problems to solve: Identifies what is holding your organization back. Where are you failing or what you should improve?
Stop doing: What are you doing today that you should stop or minimize?
Importantly, MOPS a proven technique that will enable you to build a set of strategic initiatives you can agree on as a team. It will also encourage your leadership team bring the best input from their team members and involve them in the process in a way that increases their engagement. Importantly, the output of MOPS is more extensive than just finding your strategic initiatives, and will discuss using the full extent of that output later in this post.
Team Exercise to Create Strategic Initiatives
A MOPS analysis exercise uses a similar progressive review, present, refine process that I recommended for creating your worldview. I find this a popular exercise because it encourages team input as well as group discussion to get to a final result. It also adds an element of deeper team interaction that engages a larger part of your team and seeks their input in a way that will improve the quality of options and get their buy-in.
Start by explaining the exercise to your leadership team and giving them an objective to report back with their own individual MOPS analysis that represents on presentation day. That analysis should include their own input into the four MOPS areas, as well as the feedback they receive from their team.
Each individual member of your leadership team should meet with their own team beforehand to cultivate input for the presentation. With the objective in mind of creating three to five strategic initiatives that support the strategic goals (which they would share), they should seek input on the following questions:
What is the company already doing that we should do more of or move faster?
What are opportunities we should be pursuing that we are not currently to improve our advantages or strategic advantage?
What problems or obstacles do we currently have that need to be resolved?
What are we currently doing that we should stop in order to better focus our efforts or improve our ability to achieve our strategic objectives?
After your team have had sufficient time to roll up and create their own individual MOPS analysis, plan a half day review session with an objective to bring together your leadership team to present their input.
Start the session by breaking your team up into two- or three- person teams. The teams should meet together and have each person to present and vet MOPS analysis within that team. As each team member should present their list to the other team members they should then discuss and consolidate their inputs into a single presentation that represents their best collective ideas as a team.
The second part of the session should involve bringing the teams together then present their team input to the larger group for discussion, focusing on taking away the highest priorities. Continue that process until you have combined all team presentations into one set of MOPS recommendations for the entire team. Similar ideas can often be aggregated into a broader categories as part of the process.
It’s worth emphasizing that this should not be a comprehensive list of every idea for each category. The process should focus on creating a refined list of the highest priorities for each of the MOPS categories, arriving at no more than eight to ten potential actions in each.
From this list the leadership team should identify the top three to five strategic initiatives that you will focus on to reach your strategic objectives. This is your set of “How we win” strategic initiatives. Most of your initiatives will come from the More, Opportunities, and Problems categories.
As you’ve certainly noted already, the MOPS analysis is more comprehensive than just a set of potential actions to take. Through the process you have also uncovered problems to solve and things to stop doing that won’t be strategic initiatives. Importantly, you have found them through a bottoms-up process that gives voice to your team about problems and non-priorities. You can use this to solve impediments and identify where to reduce your efforts or stop doing things that don’t matter.
With three to five strategic initiatives defined from your MOPS analysis, you have developed the high-level strategy for your organization. The next move is identifying the actions needed to complete them. This is the topic of the next post, which will focus on defining and creating actions.
The good news is that most of the actions you will take have likely already been uncovered in the details of your MOPS analysis. In the next post we’ll discuss how to identify those specific actions and put clear objectives and time to completion around them in a way that will engage your team. We will also cover how to increase the tempo of achieving those actions and how to improve your organizations overall execution clockspeed.
When done as an annual process, the MOPS analysis is a great way to identify your most important strategic initiatives and actions you need to take and, importantly, will create a sense of ownership and engagement across your organization.
Feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions or comments.
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William Kilmer is a venture capital investor, tech founder, author, and innovation strategist.