Strategy is a term bantered around a bit too much. We apply it to almost everything within business to subconsciously create an air of legitimacy and value to our actions. Creating a marketing plan? No, it’s a strategic marketing plan. Designing a hiring process? Hell no – it’s a strategic hiring process. But the real question is – are these things actually strategic?

Just because we think things through and outline a detailed plan of activities and tactics does not a strategy make. Nor is a strategy a replication of what your competitors are doing. It’s also not what would be considered “un-stupid” – meaning, if what you propose is obviously logical and the antithesis would be simply stupid, it’s not a strategy. For example, if you are a for-profit company and your strategic objective is to be profitable – well, that’s un-stupid.

Strategy is hard. Strategy forces you to figure out not only who and where you’re focusing your efforts on, but also how you’ll approach creating value in a differentiating and unique way. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of processes that can guide you in creating a strategy, but just riding a bike, it takes practice before you’re good at it. Just like you can’t simply read a manual on riding a bike and then simply ride one, strategy is the same way.

In addition, strategy is frequently misunderstood. It often is boiled down to a “strategic planning month” or a series of “strategic planning sessions” for which the company direction is plotted down on paper. These activities, if evaluated through the true lens of strategy, are never really a strategy, but simply an operating plan, marketing plan, or a “this is what our department will do this year” plan.

The problem is, we treat strategy as just another activity – another tick-list item amongst the other to-do’s which we “have to get done”. We don’t consider the importance of designing an effective strategy for the success and health of the organization. We try to create one in a matter of days, often without cross-departmental collaboration, where once completed, there’s a roundtable discussion where each leader simply shares their plan, with a lot of head-nodding and little questioning or debate.

Strategy is often the difference between companies who flourish and companies who languish. A well-crafted strategy can help an organization make better decisions on where to invest money, time, and resources. A well-crafted strategy can establish how the organization will differentiate itself from its competitors. A well-crafted strategy can help align organizational culture. In short, it’s the difference between doing stuff and all rowing the boat in the same direction.

Creating a real strategy takes time, research, customer interaction, observation, collaboration, vision, and creativity. You need to get out of your building and explore opportunities with an open mind. Strategy starts with a new way of thinking, which often is counter to existing internal mindsets. If you’re not willing to take that leap, you don’t really have a strategy at all – no matter if you try and label it that way.

About the Author

Andrea Belk Olson is a speaker, author, applied behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Financial Brand, Industry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and Director of the Startup Business Incubator at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

More information is also available on www.pragmadik.com and www.andreabelkolson.com

Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, behavioral economics and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing. She is a four-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Customer Experience Magazine, Industry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.