Corporate results are derived from small pockets of excellence, and one of those pockets is strategy. There are a relatively small number of companies that are great at creating, articulating and executing strategy in a manner that maximises results. That excellence pays off in terms of higher revenue and greater net income for the enterprise.
Most enterprises invest substantial time and energy into robust IT strategy documents that Gartner refers to as "WORN" (written once, read never) — an oxymoron, since they never are used enough to become worn.
In addition to volume, another reason these documents are rarely used has to do with the topic itself. As pervasive as technology is in our daily lives, the reality is that IT is still perceived as a black hole to its business stakeholders, whose eyes begin to glaze over the second they see such a large strategy document. This limits the usefulness of hundreds of hours invested in creating the document. The fact is, without the buy-in of all business leaders, the IT strategy has no business value.
One way to solve a lot of these issues is to learn the art of creating a one-page strategy. While there’s a science to developing an IT strategy, there’s also an art to developing one. The artful strategy lies in the ability to bring the business story into focus.
The reality is that IT is still perceived as a black hole to its business stakeholders, whose eyes begin to glaze over the second they see such a large strategy document.
If you are to do one thing, and nothing else, it is to create context for the enterprise, and to use it to articulate the contribution of IT to business success and capabilities. To create context, you will need to answer three key questions:
1. What do we need to do to "win" in the marketplace?
2. What new business capabilities are required to achieve success?
3. How will IT contribute to that success?
CIOs can play a significant role in starting that conversation.
Storytelling offers better engagement
While CIOs generally tend to report the facts when developing an IT strategy, storytelling needs to become a common technique in the IT executive's toolbox for better business engagement. Avoid the need for "alignment" processes by telling a business story and talking about business success 100 per cent of the time.
Learn how to create a strategic business conversation by pursuing the story from business stakeholders, including customers. Use these stories to create a picture of the business model that can be used to create collaboration across all aspects of the business. This model will serve as a foundation for conversation with colleagues and the IT organisation to use for implementation of the business direction.
Creating a one-page strategy
There are a number of steps to creating a one-page strategy:
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- Understand how your company wins in the marketplace.
- Use that strategy as a lens for strategic thinking about operations.
- Choose a viewpoint.
- Answer a question (or two).
- Draw a picture.
To help you along the way, there are a few tips and tricks to consider:
- Most people are better editors than creators. Resist the urge to create the perfect picture. When working with business peers and trying to engage them in sharing a vision, "good enough" is in fact good enough, and is the right starting point. If you've made the picture perfect, then business peers do not feel the need to contribute.
- While developing the picture, consider enlisting the help of the public relations or corporate communications departments.
- Once the strategy is complete, resist the urge to laminate it. Lamination implies something is done and static. Great strategy is an ongoing conversation and is adjusted as conditions change.
- Use this picture as a starter for every conversation about strategy, every success to date and every change that has taken place. Using a consistent picture to show vision, progress and next steps will help people really understand what the strategy is and what their role in achieving it is.
- Talk to various stakeholders, listen to the stories they tell and document them to help bring the vision to life. Think about your strategy from various perspectives — customers, employees, business executives and investors — and project what they would say. Use these stories to help people fully internalise the strategy.
- Build context around the one-page strategy. It is in response to the environment: market, competitors and a deep understanding about how the company will win in the marketplace. Use this context in a manner in which, when your conversation is done, people understand the strategy given the conditions the business is experiencing.
Strategy is defined as a systematic plan of action to achieve a goal. That plan of action is not static. It is very dynamic, and so is great strategy. Continue to lead with strategy in every conversation, and use the strategy developed during regular meetings to reassess the marketplace, customer changes and the enterprise's competitive stance.
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Andy Rowsell-Jones is a research vice president in Gartner's CIO & Executive Leadership research team.
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