Five Questions to Outline Organization Strategy


There are many ways to use the word strategy and it conjures up different things for different people in different contexts. What for example is the difference between strategic thinking and a strategic initiative and strategic planning? (For an answer see this taxonomy of strategic terms.)

Leaders who are asked: “What is your strategy?” might want to reply: “my strategy for what?” The reason is that every organization necessarily has many strategies.  

There is a strategy for selling, a strategy for doing what the organization does, a strategy for managing and developing offerings, a strategy for recruiting, a strategy for developing people, a strategy for raising funds, and so on. Each strategy addresses how things are done now, and what must be done so as to achieve an envisioned future.

Answering the following five questions is a good way to start laying out an organization’s strategy:

  • What problem does your organization solve for whom?  This gets at the three dimensions of any organization: 
      • Market the organization serves. 
      • Problem that market has.
      • Solution the organization offers to solve the problem.
  • How does the organization:
    • Do what it does to solve the problem?
    • Create demand for, or Sell, the solution?
    • Grow in terms of the scale of doing and selling?
  • How well does the organization Do-Sell-Grow compared to:
    • Peers: how others do? 
    • Past: how the organization used to do? 
    • Plan: how the organization said it would would do?

i.e., how does the organization perform relative to industry benchmarks, historical benchmarks, and benchmark to plan?

  • How do you know?  That is, what metrics are used to monitor performance of the do, sell, and grow systems?
  • What is most important to change next?  How does the organization need to evolve from where it is now to some specific future state, for what specific reasons, and in what specific way?  Strategic initiatives tend to fall into three flavors: those that change: 
    • Systems
    • Processes
    • Organization and the people in it in terms of how they think and behave.
Well-led organizations answer the above questions in their annual strategic plan for the organization as a whole and for every significant operating unit.  In so doing they describe their organizations strategy to win the game they are playing.