Strategy is fundamentally about making choices. Who you want to be as an organization – and who you won’t be. What direction you are going – and what path you are not taking. This is what separates good strategy from bad. If you have not made any difficult decisions, you likely aren’t being strategic. I see lots of strategic plans that seem to be the result of asking each department to submit its own priority, and then listing them in a document – often meaning 7,8 or more ‘priorities’. There are no choices made.
And choice is critical to innovation. For us who use the Innovation Engineering system, we start by defining our ‘Blue Card’. This simple tool distills for us what the strategic mission is for an organization and why it is important. It also sets out the tactical constraints and identifies areas that are out of bounds. And here’s a hint – the fewer Blue Cards you have, the more focused and aligned your teams will be. The most innovative organizations have one Blue Card at the leadership level and are laser focused on solving that Strategic Mission.
Why is this focus so important? Well good strategy informs where you put your resources. Having one strategic mission means your resources are leveraged effectively to solve for your organization’s biggest opportunity or problem. You can do absolutely everything and anything – but you can’t do it all at once.
This provides clear direction to your employees and teams – if they have an idea for your identified Strategic Mission, you want to hear about it. Without this innovation priority setting, you may find your organization investing in new ideas that aren’t related to your future state, or you may never hear of the ideas from the frontline that could be truly transformational. It empowers your team to dedicate resources – human and financial – to taking on the difficult work of solving your strategic mission. The best ones are hard to solve – they will take work, collaboration, sweat, tears (hopefully no blood). But your people are likely ready to make this investment, when you give them clarity and permission that their efforts will not be wasted.