Strategy: The Best Launch Pad for Strategic Advantage
Strategy, strategic planning and strategic communication share a root word, but are separate and distinct undertakings. Mastering all three can achieve a strategic advantage.
Strategy derives from the Greek word “strategos”, which means military general. In contemporary use, strategy has taken on more fluid meanings.
Peter Drucker, a prolific author on business management, defined strategy as an organization’s positioning for the future. Others describe strategy as the linkage between organizational goals and actions to achieve those goals. Still others equate strategy with the logic behind actions. Strategy is often linked to leadership.
Strategic planning is the process to refine and plot how to implement strategies and achieve strategic goals. Strategic planners work for and in support of business leaders who identify strategies.
Strategic communication supports strategic plan implementation by informing internal and external audiences of strategies and strategic implementation plans. Strategic communicators more often than not work directly with business leaders to help them lead strategically – and coherently.
Foundations of Strategic Management
Strategy, strategic planning and strategic communication represent the foundations of the discipline called strategic management, the opposite of seat-of-your-pants management and a distant relative of intuitive management based on experience.
The road to strategic advantage is not a straight line or always easy to navigate. The first and often biggest stumbling block is identifying, calibrating and settling on a strategy. The word’s Greek roots should be taken to heart.
Military generals worth their stars understand you don’t just pick a target on a map and attack. You conduct reconnaissance to understand the terrain, the position of the enemy force and the manpower and weaponry to overcome. In modern parlance, we call that research.
To use Drucker’s definition of strategy, positioning an organization requires an understanding the universe surrounding it. Does another organization already hold the positioning you seek? What are the consumer pain points you want to address? What can you offer that is better than what is available in terms of value, cost or availability?
Many organizations stumble by failing to base their strategies on feeling and theories rather than on solid research findings. Strategy cannot succeed in a vacuum.
With strategic positioning in hand, your team can turn to strategic planning. This is akin to when the general asks his lieutenants to draw up a battle plan to win by achieving strategic battlefield objectives. The lieutenants are the strategic planners who need to apply logic, experience and reality to the strategy to develop a plan with a level of success.
Research comes into play here, too. Keeping with the military metaphor, how does an organization get in a position for a successful attack – deception, outflanking the enemy or a full-on frontal assault? To undertake each option, what equipment, manpower and ammunition is required? And, is the equipment, manpower and ammunition available? Timing is critical. Third-party resources can make the difference.
Those and other considerations congeal into a strategic plan – the roadmap for strategic implementation. Strategic plans don’t live in a vacuum either, so getting fresh eyes on the plan can discover weaknesses, omissions and alternatives. At some point, a strategic plan has to become the plan of action. But before that point, it’s just a plan that should be based on the best advice and practical experience that can be obtained. A general can tell his soldiers to advance against an enemy position. They also can beneficially listen to a soldier’s perspective on how to advance.
The strategic process is not simple or always obvious.
Strategic Communication Follows Positioning, Planning
With strategic positioning and planning in place, communicators come into play. On the battlefield, captains are the communicators, telling troops when and where to attack. In the business world, communicators include the managers tasked with carrying out the strategy and the marketing or public affairs professionals who translate the strategy into meaningful communication for internal and external audiences. External audiences can include target consumers, stakeholders, public officials, regulatory authorities and the news media.
Strategic communications is communications with a purpose, not simply perfunctory information. Communications must be designed to appeal to specific audiences by tone, content and channel in concert with the strategy. Like other parts of the strategic process, communications should be tested and refined as needed to make sure it conveys the strategy clearly and effectively.
Strategy, strategic planning and strategic communications are interdependent. If one part of the strategic process is faulty, the entire strategic enterprise can be imperiled. Strategy, strategic planning and strategic communications that is savvy, on point, energetic and fetching can produce a strategic advantage. In turn, a strategic advantage can generate more customers and followers, maintain and grow brand loyalty and contribute to higher revenues and greater profits.
Launch Pad for Strategic Advantage
The most reliable launch pad for strategic advantage is a sound strategy, a competent strategic plan and imaginative strategic communications. Authenticity grounded in strong values can give your strategic advantage a further boost.
Gaining a strategic advantage may seem deceptively simple. The strategic process is not simple or always obvious. The starting point – developing a sound strategy – can be puzzling. Strategic planning can grind into irrelevant minutia. Strategic communications can be predictable and perfunctory. Thinking of strategy in military terms helps reinforce that the marketplace is competitive and combative. But strategy also depends on intuition, lived experience and curiosity, which don’t come from battles, but rather from orderly thought, human empathy and personal gumption.
The ultimate strategy is to be strategic and work carefully toward a strategic advantage. It takes commitment and courage. It’s your best shot at success.