While the business operations framework is a continuous cycle in which each stage informs the next, developing a strategic plan is the best place to start.
During the strategic planning process, an organization performs three steps:
- Builds or modifies the foundational strategic vision and mission
- Commits to goals that drive overall health
- Develops a long-term plan to achieve the goals
A strong strategic plan positions the organization for success and clearly defines it at every level.
A common mistake we see businesses make is starting tactical initiative execution without first communicating and aligning on the goal. Skipping these important steps can leave your organization without direction.
1. Define your vision
An organization’s vision statement is an aspirational description of what it wants to achieve in the future.
A vision statement serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action — a definition of where you want your organization to be in the long term. It sets the tone and provides a North Star on the horizon.
One example of a company with a strong vision statement is Warby Parker, the online prescription glasses retailer founded in 2010 that is now worth an estimated $3 billion.
Warby Parker’s vision statement has two parts: “We believe that buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket. We also believe that everyone has a right to see.”
With just three sentences, the vision statement tells you exactly what the company aims to achieve. Namely, to make the process for buying prescription glasses and sunglasses fun and straightforward (unlike the traditional method). The vision also aims for customers to have fashionable frames, but at a lower cost than existing options.
The last sentence of the vision statement adds in a purpose statement (aka why the company exists): “We also believe that everyone has a right to see.” Since the beginning, Warby Parker has touted its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program that donates glasses to people who can’t otherwise afford them. According to the CEO, this purpose is what motivates employees to join and stay with the company. Not all leaders include a social impact focus in their company’s vision and purpose statement, but it’s becoming increasingly popular with the growing buying power of Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
A powerful vision statement helps company employees focus their work in the right direction — and a strong vision statement will do the same for your organization.
2. Create your mission
While your vision is an organization-wide goal, your mission how you plan to achieve the vision.
Without a mission, your organization lacks the why and how. If everyone in your organization has their own interpretation of the vision, it can lead to conflicting strategies and initiatives.
For Warby Parker, there are many possible routes to achieve the company vision that states “buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket.”
The company’s mission statement is: “By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, we’re able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price.”
After the founding team realized early on that one large company dominated the eyewear industry with inflated prices, they decided to find a way to lower prices and increase quality, while also turning a profit. The resulting actions included bringing many traditionally outsourced services in-house, such as design and consumer marketing/sales.
3. Set your objectives
Objectives are specific results that a person or system aims to achieve within a time frame.
Defining success early lets you know if you are on the path to achieve your mission and vision. Clearly articulating your objectives creates goal posts by which your organization can measure its overall health and the impact of strategic initiatives.
In general, good objectives should be clear, measurable and be supported by multiple strategic initiatives across the organization.
While Warby Parker isn’t a public company and is not legally required to release annual financial statements, the organization does voluntary release an annual impact report. The report provides a window into the company’s strategic objectives with the inclusion of priority issues relevant to both stakeholders and the company. For the most recent 2019 report, the top issues cited are the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, customer experience, innovation, product safety, and responsible sourcing.
For the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, Warby Parker’s relevant objective might be aimed at growing the program, while the innovation priority may be tied to the objective of innovating to meet the strategic vision and mission. The issue of responsible sourcing could lead to an objective of using all recycled packaging or becoming carbon neutral. While the listed issues are presented through an impact lens, they also have a financial purpose.
4. Develop your strategy
Your strategy is a long-term plan that enables you to achieve your organization’s objectives.
An effective strategy brings together vision and execution. Strategies are much more specific than an organization’s vision, mission, and objectives. They are typically only shared within an organization and ideally built around an organization’s needs and market context. Strategies should map long-term plans to objectives and actionable steps, foster innovative thinking, as well as anticipate and mitigate potential pitfalls.
Strategic plans often look out 3-5 years, and there may be a separate plan for each individual objective within the organization. In the Warby Parker annual impact report, we have insight into the strategy for each of the objectives identified above. We’ll highlight potential strategies for two areas: the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program and innovation.
By the end of 2019 Warby Parker had distributed seven million pairs of glasses to 23 countries through the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair Program and will be likely focus on expanding those numbers in 2021 and beyond. According to the impact report, 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to affordable glasses to learn and work. In order to make a positive impact, Warby Parker needed to develop strategies to continue chipping away at that need, as well as meet company objectives, mission and vision. An example strategy for this program could be expanding the US-based Pupils Project, which gives school children access to free vision services and glasses. In the 2019-2020 school year, Warby Parker expanded the program from New York City and Baltimore to Philadelphia, providing vision services to an estimated 25,000 students in the School District of Philadelphia.
In addition, Warby Parker has traditionally been focused on eyewear and reimagining the customer experience for glasses wearers, so naturally the company’s leadership identified an innovation opportunity to add daily contact lenses in November 2019, which was likely the result of a multi-year strategic plan. Like Warby Parker’s eyeglasses process, the company allows a trial period for contact wearers, who can request 6 days of contacts in their prescription before committing to a full 90-day supply.
5. Outline your approach
An approach provides a methodology for executing your strategy.
The approach is a framework for answering key questions that will later determine tactics. Plus, it guides an organization on how to execute the strategic plan.
Within our Warby Parker example, each strategic plan included an approach that guided the leadership team in their analysis and plan execution. While we won’t cover each decision the company made in 2019, we’d like to focus on two big ones: the Pupils Project expansion and the launch of the contact lens brand Scout.
When it came to expanding the Pupils Project, the Warby Parker leadership team needed an approach for addressing each key decision for the program. There were likely more decisions than we can cover in one whitepaper, but will focus on two: whether to partner with existing non-profits or create its own program and how to make the greatest impact with the funds available.
Leading up to the decision points, like whether to expand the Pupils Program to Philadelphia, the leadership’s approach probably included a consideration of whether to develop the program infrastructure and manage it internally or partner with existing non-profits. The approach also likely included a cost-benefit analysis of that question, evaluating the financial ROI and social impact of each option. The company ultimately choose to work with two local Philadelphia nonprofits.
Another key decision requiring a strong approach within the Pupils Program was how to have the greatest impact with the funds available. The company needed an approach that would help them answer and inform key decisions. Those decisions could have included an analysis of whether to contribute the glasses directly or make a cash equivalent donation to the nonprofits, how to identify schools for the project (for example considering the greatest overall need or the number of glasses Warby Parker can provide), as well as who should manage the logistics of the screenings and eyeglasses deliveries.
On the innovation side, Warby Parker needed a quality approach to ensure the contact lens brand launch (called Scout) was aligned with the existing mission, vision, objectives and strategies. In order to create a contact lens that was high quality, affordable, and with lower waste packaging, the company needed a multi-pronged approach. Two crucial areas of planning for the Scout contact lenses were undoubtedly the design of the product and choosing the right manufacturer.
Because contact lenses were completely new to the company, Warby Parker needed to either design them in house or hire an outside design team that would meet the high standards the leadership outlined in the 2019 impact report, “On top of creating a great shopping experience for our customers, we have high expectations for what a daily contact lens should be—high quality, moist, breathable, comfortable, innovative, and affordable. It’s a lot to ask of one product, but we were relentless in our search for a contact lens that checked all of those boxes.”
While the company does not say in the report which route it chose for design, the leadership likely did a cost benefit analysis of designing it in-house vs. working with an outside design company or freelance designers. The key considerations were likely the cost to design, the strategic importance of certain attributes (like breathability, moisture content, shape), the cost to manufacture, and the sustainability considerations.
In terms of the approach to find the right manufacturer, Warby Parker needed to find a partner that met the company’s quality, cost, and environmental standards. The sustainability standards included finding packaging with significant less waste and incorporating recycled materials from the manufacturing process. The company’s approach to finding a manufacturer probably included research and a ranking of multiple companies with the above criteria in mind, then doing a comparison across the top choices and additional due diligence before choosing a partner.
Through these examples, you can see how an approach ladders up to strategies, outcomes and eventually the company’s mission.
6. Get down to tactics
Tactics are focused initiatives, projects, or programs that allow organizations to execute a strategic plan.
Tactics are the key to execution. They are the actions you take to make it all happen.
Within each decision Warby Parker made, the company used different tactics to move it from an idea to actual product or program. While each decision could have dozens of tactics, we’ve highlighted one or two examples for each.
For the Pupils Project at Warby Parker, the decision for how to have the largest impact possible required several tactics or initiatives to make that happen. The company choose to have the nonprofit partners run the screenings while Warby Parker provided the glasses and had the students choose their styles from 40 options in a truck show. One necessary tactic was bringing together the design and logistics teams to narrow down the style options that would be appealing to kids, cost effective, and easy to produce in large numbers.
Another important tactic was likely determining how to produce and deliver the glasses to the students, whether the glasses should deliver to their homes or the schools, and how to ensure the glasses fit correctly after they arrived. The Pupils Project’s overall goal is for children to have glasses to enable their ability to learn, and in order to do that, they need to actually use the glasses for the long-term, so it’s important to have styles that appeal to children, as well as well-fitting frames.
In terms of tactics for the Scout contact lens launch, once the company made the decision on a design team, the project leaders determined tactics to make the contacts idea a reality. The designers had specific research guidelines to find material and construction that fit the criteria of “high quality, moist, breathable, comfortable, innovative, and affordable.” The final product is made with a material that resists drying and constructed using new technology to increase eye comfort during wear.
The company design team also created flat pack packaging that is more hygienic, uses less raw materials, and takes up less space compared to traditional contact lens packaging. Even the placement of the contact (upside down) was intentional to reduce the chance of contamination from dirt or bacteria when the wearer puts them in their eye. Each of these items were likely framed as tactics and initiatives used to create the Scout lenses. Each was directly related to Warby Parker’s approach to the decision, the overall strategy, and aligned with the larger mission and vision.
On the surface, each tactic might not seem connected, but as you dig deeper, you’ll find that effective tactics should always tie back to the strategy, objectives, mission, and vision of the company.
This is the second in a 5-part blog series defining Spur Reply’s unique perspective on the often overlooked, but incredibly valuable world of business operations.