A 4 Point Plan To Ensure You Have The Right Strategic Focus

I was listening to Nick Petche, the UK Editor in Chief of Yahoo, being interviewed on Radio 4s The Media Show. This, the company once valued at $100 billion but sold last year to the American telecoms giant Verizon for a mere $5 billion. Petche was outlining the ambitious strategy Yahoo had, to reach 2 billion users by 2020, with a focus on considerable growth outside the U.S. Their plans included a variety of strategies, including a focus on finance, sport and news, complete with complimentary apps. While most of their housed content is external agencies, they are also focusing on homegrown content and he was excitedly talking about the launch of featured content on both the Royal wedding and the impending World Cup. In addition to this, they are launching a bi-weekly show. This got me thinking about the extensive strategising that would have taken place to have reached this point; where Yahoo hope to restore their fortunes. But how do you ensure your strategies are en-point and working for you?

Check the accuracy of your data

Firstly you need to take a good look at the business strategy or strategies you have in place. They may be inherited but even if they are your own, it is worth taking a good look at the foundations from which they have been derived.

We need to take external perspectives into account and we need to review our strategies regularly. 

Strategies, as we know, are dependent on a number of variables, ranging from target markets to competition as well as political and economic factors. Some of the information will have come from internal trusted advisors but regardless leaders need to be prepared to challenge the assumptions upon which these decisions have been made. Sometimes we are just too inward and internally focused and the same assumptions just keep being repeated – the echo chamber effect. The result is often unachievable targets! We need to take external perspectives into account and we need to rigorously and regularly review our strategies. 

Scrutinise your strategies


There are many strategies that have been unsuccessful because leaders have failed to take a holistic look at their own plans alongside the market momentum. Whilst Kodak is a relatively old case study, it is a perfect example of a once successful strategy going spectacularly wrong and one that I still use regularly, when developing aspiring entrepreneurial leaders. The Boards refusal to develop their digital camera, for fear of harming their film sales, caused the company’s decline. In the space of just ten years, film sales dropped exponentially, correlating perfectly with the rise of digital cameras. Given the digital camera was the innovation of Kodak in the first place, this makes for painful reading.

Then who can forget the Blackberry, whose core strategy was B2B sales, with an excellent piece of ‘fit for purpose’ hardware. IT departments loved the Blackberry, but sadly the users didn’t. Gradually IT departments began to cave under the pressure of the workforce who preferred the emerging iPhone and Android devices. Blackberry forgot to consider the end user when working on their strategy.

In both cases, the market momentum severely affected a once solid business strategy, a not unfamiliar refrain when you consider the impact on retail businesses that have moved too slowly into multi-channel retailing and the casualties that have ensued as a result.

While these are examples of strategies that went spectacularly wrong, we are probably more interested in why we can fail to meet the targets we set out in our strategies. How can Yahoo, for example, ensure that the 2 billion users target in 2020, will be met? 

Stay focused on the goals

So we have looked at the need to scrutinise any assumptions that have been made in our strategies as well as the need to stop relying solely on internal data when devising strategic forecasts. In addition to this, however, you need to ask yourself if your focus is where it should be and is it aligned to your primary vision? You need to review where your resources are being put to use and whether they are being spread too thinly. Successful leaders are good at saying ‘no’ and focusing their resources on a narrowed set of priorities.

Elon Musk.png

SuccesSful leaders are good at saying 'no' and focusing on a narrower set of priorities.

Sometimes in our efforts to add products or features to existing models, or boost our activities with stretch assignments, we can lose focus on our core business model and it will suffer as a result. Worse still, if we repeatedly fail to meet the targets we set, then employee and shareholder confidence is at risk. 

Many leaders set too many stretch assignments. Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projects and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. It was no surprise then that the market was sceptical when Musk declared in early 2016 that Tesla would produce half a million cars in 2018 – two years ahead of a previously announced super quick schedule.

Elon Musk’s ambitious multiple projects may be hurting Tesla

Get key strategic talent hyper aligned

For a strategy to be successful it needs the support of all the key players in your organisation, so their participation in its development is vital.  A strategy is nothing without the execution and it is the people around you who will determine the success of that execution. Strategy development is about knowing something but strategy execution is about doing something! The people around you need to be hyper aligned with your goals and know how to deliver high-impact actions.

Once you have identified key players - you need to amplify their performance.  

Once you have identified your key players most likely to deliver impactful execution then you need to amplify their performance. Invest in training and business coaching to fully realise both potential and execution. You might also want to consider re-evaluating your entire recruitment process, to ensure you are maximising your talent pool potential. A strategic planning and execution process that incorporates external expertise and remains focused on the vital priorities, is more likely to succeed. It forces us out of that echo chamber we can get stuck in. Bringing people along the journey with you, even if it is bumpy at times, means you are in the best position to execute that strategy productively, whilst developing the team around you. 

Fiona McKay