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Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?

Posted September 29, 2008 12:09 PM by Dylan Miyake

Do you know your organization's strategy? Can you describe it (in 50 words or less)? And if you can, what are the chances that your description matches the description of the person who sits next to you?

It's amazing, but in many of the organizations we work with, no one – not even the Executive Director – can clearly and succinctly state the strategy at the start of the project. Sure, they can point to a binder that some consultants put together a few years back, or maybe parrot back the mission and vision from the last leadership retreat, but they can't tell the story of the strategy.

Getting a group of people to agree on something as trivial as lunch plans is hard, and getting people to agree on something as important as strategy is even harder. Fortunately, however, there is a tool in a recent Harvard Business Review article (by Collins and Rukstad called "Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?") that can help make things a little easier to manage. Treat the suggestions below as a guide – not doctrine. The most important thing is to start talking about your strategy, and the framework is just one (of many) good ways to put some training wheels on the discussion.

The first thing to figure out is the objective of the organization. Sometimes this is called the mission, or the vision, or the BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal). Whatever you call it, it is why the organization exists. A good example of an objective statement is one used by Catholic Charities of Boston, whose objective is "building a just and compassionate society." The objective statement should be short, clear, and understandable to everyone (even people outside of your sector.)

After you've wrestled the objective to the ground, the next thing to discuss is the advantage your organization offers. How do you do things differently, better, or more efficiently? This is also sometimes called your "value proposition." Again, it's not important what you call it, but it is critical that you discuss it. Catholic Charities' advantage is that they provide a truly integrated set of solutions. For example, they can help a refugee family find housing, job training, emergency food and resources, and immigration legal support.

Finally, you have to decide what you are doing (and what you're not doing) to achieve your objective. This is called your scope. Scope might mean focusing on a particular segment of the population, a particular area of the earth, or a particular way of serving your customers. It's a way to focus your organization so you're not trying to be everything to everyone. Catholic Charities' scope is the "neediest poor" – those who, for whatever reason, are not served by the established social service infrastructure.

Putting the objective, advantage, and scope (OAS) together, and you get a clear and concise statement of Catholic Charities' strategy: "Building a just and compassionate society (O) by providing an integrated set of solutions (A) to the neediest poor (S)." Pretty good, isn't it? Sixteen words (34 to spare!) that everyone can understand and the organization can rally around.

Have you used the OAS framework to articulate your strategy? Or another framework? Share your successes (and frustrations) with us below.



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