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Lynch on Strategy
Part I:
Why A One-Page Strategic Plan?

One of our new staff members asked me the other day, “Why is it important to capture your strategy on just one page?”

The question stopped me. In my role as Head of Strategy and Consulting at RESULTS.com, I have unique and privileged insights into the day-to-day operations of thousands of fast-growing firms around the world. I get to see what really works (and what doesn’t) over a large number of business cases, and spend a lot of my time auditing and reviewing strategic plans for our client firms; providing critique, teaching best practices, and helping them translate their decisions into actionable projects and metrics.

And with that question I realized that I assumed it was normal for every organization to want to capture their strategy on one page. We've been teaching clients to do this for 20 years now. But I realized that it had been some time since I explained why it is valuable to do so.

Here are a few benefits of a one page strategic plan:

1. Get everyone on the same page (literally)

A complex, multi-page document or deck is unlikely to be read or understood by everyone in your company. It is also highly unlikely to be looked at frequently.

It’s not just a management cliche. With a one page strategic plan you can literally “get everyone on the same page” by having a unifying document that clearly and simply informs your people about:

  • Who we are
  • Where we are going
  • How we plan to get there

The one page strategic plan should be shared with every employee and kept visible in a place where it is seen on a daily basis. In the past, clients would print out the document and post it at people’s workstations. These days the plan can be hosted online so it's always visible; in fact, it is one of the core components of the RESULTS.com software dashboard that our clients use every day.   

2. Focus on what is truly strategic

Without a disciplined strategic decision making framework to force you to think strategically and make clear choices, the default tendency for many organizations is to make financial forecasts and lists of everything they want to do, bundle it into a multi-page document with a series of spreadsheets, and call it a strategic plan.

It's not.

There are two major problems with it:

First of all, a list of ‘things to do’ is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders suggest things they would like to see accomplished. Rather than focus on a few important strategic moves, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into a document they erroneously call a strategic plan. 

That’s fine up to a point, and some strategic planning methodologies begin and end here. But, in my opinion, there are serious gaps this approach. While it's true that any plan is better than none, there’s really not a lot of what I would consider actual “strategy” contained in a plan like this. 

A winning strategy requires careful analysis, a thorough understanding of how your industry is likely to play out, and extreme clarity on the few, pivotal strategic moves your company needs to make in order to position yourself for future success. That's not a to-do list. That's a strategy.

Secondly, most companies attempt to take on far too many initiatives. Strategy requires trade-offs. You cannot do everything you want to do. You cannot be everything to everybody. You cannot just blindly copy the moves of your competitors and hope to win. You have to figure out what to say "YES" to, and what to say "NO" to. You must make clear cut choices about how you will compete in the future, and then allocate your time and resources accordingly.

If you are not making trade-offs like these, you don’t have a strategy!

“Less is more” when it comes to strategy execution. I often tell clients, “If everything is strategic, then nothing is”. I recommend that you whittle your wishlist down to the 3 strategic moves that will have the greatest impact on your future success, and say “NO” to everything that doesn’t make the cut.

Every leader needs to clearly explain the top 3 things the company is working on. If you can’t, then you’re not leading well.  – Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric

3. Teach strategy best practices to your staff

By virtue of limited space (you have only one page to work with, after all), a one page strategic plan forces you to identify and capture only the things that are truly important. A good strategic planning template will provide an explanation of what each element in the plan means, why is important, and how it relates to the whole. This enables every employee to understand the context for each of the strategic decisions they see on the plan. 

I also recommend getting an objective 3rd party to challenge your decisions to make sure they are robust and thought through. Even when you understand the definitions, it does not necessarily mean you know what “good” looks like. 

You see, strategic planning is not about filling out boxes on a template, it’s about going through a disciplined thought process to make wise strategic choices that will setup your organization for future success. Then you cascade your decisions down to every role to align and focus your people on what they need to do to turn your strategy into action every day.

Stephen Lynch, Head of Strategy and Consulting