An important element of any go-to-market strategy is understanding the essence of a good verses bad strategy. Based on my experiences in strategic planning at both Fortune 500 companies and startups, I've learned that bad strategy is easy, and good strategy is hard. Do the hard work to get it right.
Hallmarks of bad strategy
- Failure to face the problem: A strategy is a way through a difficulty, an approach to overcoming an obstacle, a response to a challenge. If the challenge is not defined, it is difficult or impossible to assess the quality of the strategy… if you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have a stretch goal or a budget or a list of things you wish would happen.
- Mistaking goals for strategy: The goal is always to win, but winning isn’t a strategy. The job of the leader is to create the conditions that will make the goal effective, to have a strategy worthy of the effort called upon.
- Bad strategic objectives: A long list of things to do, often mis-labeled as strategies or objectives, is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do. Good strategy, in contrast, works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes.
- Fluff: A final hallmark of mediocrity and bad strategy is superficial abstraction—a flurry of fluff—designed to mask the absence of thought. Fluff is a restatement of the obvious, combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords that masquerade as expertise.
Why are most go-to-market strategies bad?
- Inability to choose: Strategy involves focus and, therefore, choice. And choice means setting aside some goals in favor of others. Deciding “What business are we NOT in?” is almost as important as “What business ARE we in?” But these choices are often difficult internally and teams fail to take a position, but instead, try to do everything for everyone. That results in chaos and fragmentation.
- Template Style Strategy: This is “Dilbert” applied to strategic planning. Mission-Vision-Values-Strategies templates typically fail to drive to insight and focus. They create lots of paper and fluff, but often fail in execution.
The kernels of good strategy
- A diagnosis: an explanation of the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as being the critical ones. This creates a framework for debate and discussion around real options.
- A guiding policy: an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis. This allows the debate to be outcome-focused and deep.
- Coherent actions: steps that are coordinated with one another to support the accomplishment of the guiding policy. This translates decisions into execution.