“Winning” Is Not The Best Strategy

How to Design a Strategic Direction that Motivates Your Team and Enables Results

“Our goal is to WIN!”

“Our team enables our company to win with our customers.”

“We want to win.”

“We need to win with our stakeholders. How will we do that?”

“I don’t want to win. I want to be a winner.”

These are actual quotes we’ve heard from clients over the past few years. There is a lot of energy around winning and being a winner in corporate workplaces. The problem is that “winning” as a strategy is like a buffalo chicken wing—lots of spice, but very little meat.

It’s easy to gravitate towards “winning,” because it’s something that everyone wants to do. “Let’s win!” is an easy rallying cry with the “spice” to energize the team forward, but towards what? More often than not, “let’s win!” is not accompanied by a clear, succinct definition of what winning means, or directions on how to achieve the “win”. It’s no surprise that only 55% of middle managers can name one of their company’s top five priorities. In other words, when the leaders communicate their compelling strategies to their troops, nearly half are only able to list one of the five priorities correctly.

A thoughtful strategy that is communicated well can align an organization and its resources around a clear destination and roadmap. This focused alignment enables teams to more effectively address challenges and obstacles that arise during projects or transformations.

Recently, we partnered with a mid-sized Fortune 500 company whose business had quadrupled over the past 20+ years yet their supply chain had not grown at the same pace. As we have observed with many companies, the supply chain leadership team was fired up about winning and charged the team to move forward with a list of 15+ strategic initiatives in addition to a myriad of other projects already in flight.

Without a clear strategic direction and plan to execute this strategy, the leadership team struggled to leverage the full potential of their teams’ talents. They faced challenges galvanizing their teams, collaborating with partners across the business, and taking significant steps towards radically changing their operational delivery.

While even the best-laid plans don’t always go as expected, we recommend leaders consider the following actions when engaging their organization, energizing employees, and achieving operational excellence.

When creating a focused and engaging strategic direction, consider the following:

  • Assess the landscape. If you’re unsure of where to begin or what areas need to be addressed to improve operations, start with an assessment of the current state of your organization and identify areas where capability improvements are needed for future growth. This could be as simple as a SWOT analysis, or it may require a systematic review of the organization’s culture, processes, work environment, and structure. Larger organizational assessments are typically led by a working group and can include HR support or outside consultants. This analysis will help you identify factors that could impact your strategic direction and some of the next steps that may need to be taken (e.g., an organizational restructuring, defining a target operating model, work prioritization, etc.).
  • Define a succinct vision. In one aspirational statement, outline the desired long-term impact the team would like to manifest. This statement defines where the team is going and what the destination looks like. While being open to other’s opinions, be careful to not over-index on the “who” and “what” for specific teams – this is the overall team mission. The vision describes your team’s “why.” By helping team members easily visualize what success looks like, confusion is reduced, and productivity accelerated. After all, it is more exciting to embark on a road trip when you know the destination is a desirable place.
  • Describe success through target achievements. Help team members understand what success looks like by identifying the targets needed to reach the organization’s long-term goals. These targets may be direct or indirect indicators and should focus on the outcomes you intend to achieve. By defining success, you and your team will clearly know when success has been achieved. And, target outcomes do not need to be “safe”. Be bold with your targets as employees tend to meet high expectations; a review of 15 transformations found that organizations on average delivered 2.7 times more value than their senior executives thought possible at the start.
  • Identify strategic objectives. Once success indicators are clearly defined, identify the team actions needed to actualize the target achievements. The objectives should be specific and measurable. For example, if one of your target achievements is “delivering a seamless experience for the customer,” then sample objectives may include “improve issue resolution through trust-based relationships” or “implement Martech and Adtech software to optimize marketing efforts and goals.” Objectives will guide the organization of project teams for action and help team members understand how to actualize the vision. You can organize the strategic objectives around people, operations, and technology buckets, but feel free to customize to your team needs.

When thinking about sharing the strategic direction and progress, consider the following:

  • Organize your vision, target achievements, and strategic objectives in one place to easily share with key stakeholders. The template below is a simple example of how to do this.

  • Draft a communication and engagement plan to share with key stakeholders on your team and within your organization, so that they understand where the team is going and how they can best partner with you to make it happen.
  • Develop a roadmap that outlines the projects required to achieve objectives. The roadmap should include specific initiatives, timelines, and resource requirements. It will help you track your progress and set milestones along the way.
  • Monitor progress on the roadmap against your strategic direction as projects get underway. This will help you identify areas where you are making progress and areas where you need to adjust your approach.
  • While everyone wants to win, setting a clear strategic direction will ultimately help you energize your team and facilitate their success in achieving target outcomes.

If you have additional strategic direction questions, want more information on how to set goals or plan for your transformation, or need to get an existing transformation back on track… contact us!


Maria Connor

Capability Leader, People & Change

Sean Selman

Managing Consultant, Org Solutions & Change Management

About Strategy + Transformation

Thought Logic’s Strategy + Transformation smartSolution helps businesses navigate organizational transformation through periods of growth and change.

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