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The genuinely ambitious strategy

LuckMy recent article: four signs of a bad strategy got an unprecedented number of replies. It seems like there are a lot of organisations who have audacious multi-year plans, with big goals for each year, but who, two or three years in, are making very little real inroads.

It’s easy to write visionary statements and audacious goals, then to go back to the day-job, believing that if you work really hard, success will happen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Plans rarely survive reality for long, and to achieve genuinely ambitious goals, you need more than just hard work and faith. You need to focus on three things.

Capability: You’ve probably got milestones in the plan for when the next product gets shipped or the next country comes on-line. But are you on top of the things that need to be in place in order for that big stuff to keep landing, not just this year, but next year and the year after? It’s not as sexy as a marketing campaign, but things like building your capacity to innovate, getting your information and systems sorted and even more importantly, your ability to recruit the right people just when you need them; in the long run, those are far, far more important.  

Team: I’ve written plenty about this before (e.g. here and here) so I won’t labour the point, but you’re looking for a team that you believe can, and will, sail the ship without you. They need to have mutual trust and respect, yet be able to challenge and bring out the best in each other. They need to be skilled and experienced, yet keen to learn and grow, because as your organisation changes, so must they.

Reflexes: I often get a shocked reaction when I tell people that 90% of business success is down to sheer luck, and that the most critical skill for an entrepreneur is simply the ability to make the most of lucky breaks. It goes against everything we’ve learned. It challenges our faith in cause and effect, in work and reward, in being ‘masters of our fate’ in a predictable world. But that doesn’t make it any less true. The purpose of planning, in any truly ambitious organisation, is not to achieve an arbitrary goal, but to put you into a position where you can spot, react to, and roll the dice, on all the right opportunities as they pass by.

Bottom Line:  A genuinely ambitious strategy has nothing to do with visionary strap-lines and audacious goals; it’s about having a great team that can run the show without you, and a plan that focuses as much on building your capability as it does on delivering the day-job. After that, it all comes down to putting yourself out there, watching and waiting, picking your moment, backing yourself and riding your luck.

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