It takes three things to be successful in business: sound strategy, sure tactics, and consistent execution. Like fence posts planted in the ground, when these three are aligned, you have success in sight. Rarely, however, are all three in place. I have discovered from nearly a decade of consulting that most business leaders–from start-up entrepreneurs to CEO’s–have only mastered one of these essentials, the other two are left languishing. Their business languishes as well.
Strategy: The Dreamer
Dreamers are all about the big picture. They love the view from 30,000 feet. Long-range goals, strategic planning retreats, and grand vision all energize them. They can go on for hours about these things. And herein lies the problem.
Strategic planning quickly becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end. Pick up any book on the subject and you’ll be introduced to a dizzying array of theories and terms. There’s SWOT and BHAG, core ideology and catalytic mechanisms, critical success factors and key performance indicators. On and on I could go. Dreamers love all these things and yearn for more. The problem is, you end up with a plan that no one can understand or remember, let alone do.
Plans and planning tools make great servants but terrible masters. They exist to provide what you need to get the job done, and nothing more. They are not an all-you-can-eat buffet to fill a two-day retreat. Here’s what this means in real life: creating a core business strategy on a single sheet of paper that’s no more than 100 words (preferably 50). That’s it. Your strategy must be sound, but it doesn’t need to be exhaustive or you’ll never get it done. They’ll just be words on paper in a file that never sees the light of day.
Tactics: The Driver
The driver is different than the dreamer in the same way a map is different than a car. Most drivers hate maps and just want to get going. So they do, driving here and driving there, wasting time and resources getting to their destination (if they ever get there at all). Whoever said, “I can’t see the forest for the trees!” was sent there by a driver. To find your way through the trees requires a good map. Not a detailed map, but a good one. But it also requires getting your feet on the ground and moving from tree to tree.
I’ll confess that I’m a driver. I love all things tactical and am energized by the next great activity. I feel sorry for the poor people in my life who have been sent one week in one direction and the next week in another direction in chase of better business results. I’ve learned over the years, however, to curb my impulse to experiment and stay true to these essentials: a handful of challenging goals with specific steps of action and a scorecard with 5-10 key metrics. My clients run their businesses by these as well. For a driver this may seem boring, but there’s nothing boring about cashing the checks that come as a result.
Execution: The Doer
Doers are similar to drivers in that they are wired to act. But a doer’s actions are different than a driver’s in much the same way as the tortoise, in Aesop’s famous fable, is different from the hare. Yes, in running from pillar to post the hare doesn’t win the race. But if the tortoise is pointed in the wrong direction or meet bumps on the road in the wrong way, he may never finish the race, let alone win it.
The doers I meet most often are the owners of businesses who have been faithfully serving their customers for years. Never taking a prolonged vacation or even much of a paycheck, they labor on until one day they tire out and give up. A handwritten sign announcing a retirement sale goes up in their window and the business owner walks away from 20 years of service with little more that a few bucks.
We admire such faithfulness, but their faithfulness is not fruitful. And in many cases it’s harmful, alienating these entrepreneurs from family and friends and destroying their personal well-being. With sound strategy and sure tactics, that business could have been an absolute joy to work in and accrued equity that would take care of them for the rest of their life.
Whichever business leader you tend to be–the dreamer, the driver, or the doer–understand the strengths of that style and avoid its weaknesses. Line up all three posts and have them firmly planted in the ground. You’ll have a straight line of sight to success as a result.