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The 6 A's of Strategy

Strategy development is difficult in practice and definition. Of course, when it is difficult to define your objective, then achieving it is more difficult. The focus of strategy development is generally on crafting analysis rather than execution. Strategy processes tend to answer the questions what they want to do, why they want to do it, who will do it, and how they will do it. Usually, left unanswered are the execution questions of when and where the objectives are achieved. This process leads to the undesirable outcome where a good strategy fails due to poor execution. Even this conclusion may not be correct as it fails to include execution as part of the strategy process. The 6A strategy process integrates these questions into components to Assess, Analyze, Alternatives, Align, Act, and Adapt. While there is no certainty of success, a coherent framework provides consistency to the strategy process, so that the chance of achieving the mission and realizing the vision increases.

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Definitional Clarity. Strategy is actions taken that are designed to meet stakeholder expectations by defining where the long-term path of the organization leads, what path is taken to achieve the objective, and how the organization aligns resources to its advantage as the journey along the path evolves. Within this definition, there are three parts: where are we going (vision & mission), what plan will deliver the results (planning), and how to align the organization (implementation).

Business leaders tend to focus on one part of the strategy process: vision and mission, planning, or implementation. While they are all part of a strategy process, focusing on one component without the others will leave the strategy incomplete. Strategy is properly viewed as linked elements of a process with the objective of achieving the mission. The goal of the 6A Strategy process is to connect the various tools of strategy into a simple framework.

Achieving 6A. Using a process framework does not deliver a successful strategy. Business is highly competitive and continually evolving. Leaders and laggards can change places quickly, as Apple and RIM discovered. The framework, however, does provide a coherent and consistent process that helps to reduce the risk from a selected strategy. The primary objective is to identify the occurrence of strategic drift and when a response is necessary.

The 6A Strategy program contains two stages: strategic planning and strategic execution, which are connected by the selected strategy. The planning stage where we Assess, Analyze and determine Alternatives that will result in the selected strategy, while the execution stage is where we Align, Act, and Adapt to implement the selected strategy. Together they lead to a strategy process that aids in the achievement of the mission of the business so that the business vision is realized.

Envisioning the Mission. It is said that all journeys begin with the first step, which is not exactly correct. First, you have to decide in which direction you are going to step. Of course, you could just walk randomly; however, this does not require a strategy. Alternatively, an enterprise may have a vision and mission without engaging in any strategy discussion, which makes achieving the objective a function of luck.

As with all strategy, 6A strategy begins with the setting of the goals. The first step is where are you going or the vision. The particular purpose of the vision is to inspire people to deliver the selected strategy. Critically, it answers the question of why is the enterprise undertaking this mission (e.g. simplify strategy, reducing risk). The answers may focus on solving a customer need, growth in the business, encouraging cultural values, or any other objective that inspires people to do their business. The key is that there is an incentive for people to make a difference and perform at a high level.

The mission of the enterprise contrasts with the vision by stating where we are. Broadly speaking, the mission defines what the enterprise does, how it does it, and for whom. More narrowly, the mission defines what customer want is addressed (e.g. how to develop a successful strategy), how the enterprise meets this desire (e.g. providing a framework for analysis), and who are the company's customers (e.g. business leaders). With the objectives defined, the work begins as planning and execution commence.

Planning Success. It was said that plans are useless but planning is indispensable and that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Even one of America's greatest fiction novels, Of Mice and Men, celebrated the theme. Simply put, your plans will change no matter how well researched and reasoned they are because the future is uncertain, whether dealing with the internal functions of the enterprise or the external environment in which it operates.

As the sage sailor knows, it is best to prepare for the storm before it arrives. Finding a new course when thrown off your intended path is easier when prepared. To achieve this level of preparation the business must assess their capabilities, analyze the environment, and evaluate strategy alternatives. The first step is knowing where you are. The process includes understanding what the business does well, the resources it can draw upon, and the needs of the stakeholders. The combination establishes a foundation upon which the business can build.

Assessing your capabilities and resources determines from where you are starting while understanding the needs of key stakeholders where success will take the enterprise. Analysis extends this insight from assessment to deliver the knowledge of the gaps between what you have and what you need, and what is the impact of the external environment. Alternative strategies are devised to determine how the enterprise can respond to achieve its mission. The outcome is a strategy that supports the mission and moves towards the vision.

Executing Strategy. Advice on business strategy fill bookstores and students generating great ideas populate business schools. Nonetheless, business managers encounter significant difficulty in achieving their strategic goals and not all great ideas are realized. The trouble is not in the planning or the idea creation: the challenge is translating the ethereal into the tangible. Executing strategy requires aligning people, acting on projects and positioning in the market, and adapting to change as the strategy evolves over time.

Strategy does not happen without people. Aligning people, process, partners, and platforms answers who needs to be there to execute the strategy. There are many examples in business and sports where the ability of the people or product involved was superior to competitors; however, success was not achieved. Vision and mission statement play a vital role here: they help to inspire people to align their needs with the company. Alignment also applies to partners: without the commitment from an external partner that provides a valuable service, the execution risk increases. Further, aligning the optimal processes and platforms reduces the risk in the strategy. Alignment identifies the critical success factor of who will deliver success.

Putting a strategy into action requires a program of projects that support the strategy and the execution of the position in the market. The singular challenge is to act on a strategy: ensuring that the actions undertaken meet the objectives of the strategy when they are intended. Maintaining progress is difficult without the appropriate sequencing of projects and delivering the strategy to market. The delivery of the critical activities helps to ensure that the promise of the strategy is realized.

Correcting course is easy if you are in the incorrect lane, while it is much more challenging if you are going in the opposite direction. To maintain strategic direction and minimize strategic drift requires understanding why are we here? Implementation measures and monitors performance at the strategic level with critical success factors and key performance indicators, while measuring critical activities at the operational level with activity performance indicators.

Strategy Risk. Even with a coherent strategy, there is always the risk of mines and meteorites. Mines are those risks that are reasonably foreseen and measured, while meteorites are those that are difficult to identify or measure their impact. The strategic response differs for the two. Developing a response to mines entails a choice between avoidance or correction after detonation with a trade-off between impact and the cost to avoid. Alternately, meteorites are those unforeseeable events that occur whose impact is uncertain and thus identifying a response in advance is difficult. Developing a response entails thinking forward to identify thresholds that if breached would cause pain. The meteorite response reflects the agility of the enterprise to the unknown. In a world of change, where differentiation is vital and innovation may lead to your demise, minimizing the risk to a strategy is critical.

This article is the first in a four-part series on The 6 A's of Strategy, which discusses strategy as a process. Find part two here.

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