A Japanese proverb says, “Vision without action is a dream. And action without vision is a nightmare.” For any successful organization, the vision is the strategic plan. And yet many leaders find themselves in the nightmare of constantly putting out fires and working “in” the organization instead of “on” it.
The only way out of that conundrum is to get everyone on your team to buy-in to the vision. They have to understand the strategy before they can contribute to it. But teaching strategy can be difficult. Fortunately, there’s one aspect of strategy that can give everyone on your staff a toe-hold on understanding the whole thing. Start there, and the rest will follow.
Where to Focus
True strategic thinking does not involve saying “yes” to every great idea. On the contrary, strategic thinking is about making choices, and then sticking with them. “If you want to create a strategic plan that will set you up for future success in your industry,” RESULTS President Stephen Lynch writes in Business Execution for RESULTS, "you have to do the analysis first…Deciding what NOT to do is every bit as important as deciding what to do.”
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Brian Halligan, the CEO of the marketing platform provider HubSpot, talked about how transformative this kind of focus can be. He also identifies a great way to start teaching strategic thinking to your team.
“We used to have two buyer personas,” he writes, “’Owner Ollie,’ the owner of a small business; and ‘Marketing Mary,’ a marketing director of a medium-sized business who needed to convert website visitors into leads,” he writes. “By continuing to serve two masters, we watered down our marketing effort, and hampered our product development velocity.”
He was in a sort of “nightmare” until he focused on just one of these personas. When he chose “Marketing Mary” as his primary target market persona, his strategic thinking became clearer across the board. And by focusing on Marketing Mary, he empowered his team to think and act strategically.
“When we committed to the Marketing Mary play, there could be no turning back,” Halligan says. “That comes with risk, of course, in case we had miscalculated. But, in the transition from startup to scale-up, we had accumulated enough data and experience to be confident. And that confidence energized our entire organization as we executed our goal with intensity.
Use Human Nature
Personas are easy to teach and easy to understand. We’re social beings, so giving people a specific individual to think about is a great starting point. By educating your team about your target market persona, you can jump-start their ability to execute their jobs in accordance with your vision. It can cut through the “watered down” confusion that trapped you in a putting-out-fires mentality.
In fact, your target-market persona can help you transform your business from one that’s floundering to one that’s winning. That happened for a British toy company, Hornby Railways. They made model railways and Scalextric slot car racing tracks, and they thought of their products as toys for kids. But kids had moved on to different toys, and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. At that point a new CEO, Frank Martin, showed up and had a brilliant insight.
He came up with a better target market persona. The company “decided to change course and focus on collectors and hobbyists instead. As a new strategy, Martin aimed (1) to make perfect scale models (rather than toys); (2) for adult collectors (rather than for children); (3) that appealed to a sense of nostalgia (because it reminded adults of their childhoods).”
Transformation Is Possible
Imagine the courage that took. If every employee thought they worked for a toy company, and that their target market persona was a child, switching gears to thinking about adult collectors and their nostalgia must have been quite a shift. However, that focus empowered them to bring their own creativity and drive to delighting a new target market persona who would truly appreciate their craftsmanship.
Miller understood this. “Visionary leaders see further when they can see through many eyes,” HBR explained in reporting this story. “This means staying in close communication with their on-the-ground players, the way [American] football coaches talk with quarterbacks on headsets throughout the game.”
The switch completely turned the company around. In just over five years, its share price skyrocketed from £35 to £250.
So if you’ve put the work into creating a great strategic plan, but you’re struggling to find a way to get your team to execute that strategy, start by teaching them about your target market persona. Who is this person? What do they want? Marketing Mary wanted leads. Toy collectors wanted to indulge their nostalgia. From an understanding that precise, your whole team can embrace the rest of your strategic plan and help you see your own vision with greater clarity.