This time of year brings widespread talk about budgets, strategy and how to maximize resources for growth and profit. How you conduct these conversations and make decisions during this process can affect your personal brand. So don’t let dollars and cents be your only guideline. Think about what you want for your organization, team and individual growth. A common dilemma at the outset: Which comes first, strategy or vision?
For Mark Cohn, CEO of Aspirity Holdings, vision is the hands-down winner. He emphasizes the need to have an overall vision before you can design effective strategy. “Operational plans should flow from strategy. And strategy really equals a collection of discussions that will help move your business from where it is to where you want it to go.” Cohn advises all CEOs to think of themselves as chief investment officers who are in charge of deploying sources of capital in these areas: human, leadership, money and intellectual. And, he stresses, “never equal amounts at the same time.”
His point is that attention and resources in each of these areas will ebb and flow. The question is the priority each should receive as you strategize and gain buy-in, keeping authenticity and brand identity top-of-mind. No matter where you fall in the company hierarchy—or if you are a business owner yourself—this picture of yourself as a chief investment officer can help you assess reality and plan for a successful long game.
Many companies work on budgets as if the act of bean-counting is strategy. But really, it’s a separate question. In that vein, I asked Cohn what he sees as some of the biggest pitfalls when people at any level of an organization plan for the future. He notes that people may not have built in enough flexibility for their organization, because the world will change on the road to your vision. He emphasizes that the market will give you feedback, which you should pay attention to: “Businesses that survive are able to respond to market needs,” by remaining receptive to the data around them and moving nimbly. Attention to feedback helps lay the groundwork for productive strategizing.
“Strategy is worthless if you don’t have the fortitude to execute it over an extended measure of time,” counsels Chip Norris, president of Alerus Financial Minnesota. Think about a few brands, local and national, that embody Cohn’s advice and Norris’ words: Hormel, Nike, Coke, Coach. They evolved. These brands also know their audiences. Whether you are deciphering the best use of internal human talent or focusing on customer needs, strong audience analysis is a must.
You may know the acronym KISS, for “Keep it simple stupid,” as Judge Judy often famously states. In business life, deep dives into strategy often get overcomplicated and stray from the core customer or goal of a particular brand. “If your product or service is not high-quality and delivered with great customer service, it has no chance to compete and, therefore, an amazing strategy will be unsuccessful,” says Patrick Belland, president of Fairview Ridges Hospital. Belland’s words highlight how focus on the customer must underlie any vision for greatness. This focus will consequently aid in developing the best strategies. Any good strategy discussion will also attempt to boost the fundamental structure of your organization. What sort of attention are you paying to structure as you visualize the future and plan for it?
Cohn describes the backbone of a functioning vision as “attention to policies, processes and systems.” These zones are fueled by constant learning, he says. You often hear the term “leadership pipeline.” No matter what the size of a company, we all know the difference between good leaders and weak ones. Any decision-maker tasked with strategy development must be mindful of who belongs in a certain role and how that zone of influence plays to the strength of the organization. In my executive coaching practice, I’ve coached strategic leaders through refocusing direct reports into their correct lanes. This is easier when leaders and their teams dedicate to solid processes and systems. As you sit down to map your strategy for the years ahead, keep things simple, but dream big.
Roshini Rajkumar is a personal brand strategist and presence engineer. She is host of News and Views with Roshini Rajkumar on WCCO Radio and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit CommunicateThatBook.com. Talk with Roshini at firstname.lastname@example.org.