The short answer is you don’t. That is if you don’t know where you want to end up, or if your practice strategy is ‘to have an adventure’. If that’s the case then ‘doing stuff as it comes along’ is just fine. However, if your practice isn’t achieving your aspirations, or you want to make some kind of change – more work, different work or a higher profile, then it may be time to take a quick step back and think more strategically.
The word ‘strategy’ is overused and now conjures up terrible images of ‘blue sky sessions’ and weighty tomes which often sit on a shelf until the next leadership away day. A strategy and its offspring, the plan, simply clarify your aims and how you intend to achieve them. Although the thinking behind each should be well considered, you should be able to summarise both in a few paragraphs or a simple diagram.
Together, the strategy and plan cover: where you are; where you want be; how you’ll get from ‘are’ to ‘be’ and then the plan – who will do what, when?
Strategy gives you a framework for decision making
One of my favourite analogies relating to strategic thinking is the story of the GB men’s rowing team whose framework for decision making was simply ‘what will make the boat go faster?’
The built environment is peppered with debates and networking events, forums and panels, awards and competitions – lots of places to spend (or waste) your money. Which will be worthwhile? Then there are new business opportunities – ‘we’ve been approached to join this team’, ‘I think this client is ideal for us’, ‘one of our best clients has called with more work’ and everyone’s favourite, ‘should we go for this OJEU?’ Where will your limited time be best invested?
By defining the type of work you want, the audience you need to reach, and the reputation you seek, strategy provides a framework for these decisions; it provides your equivalent of ‘what will make the boat go faster?’ Crucially, it helps you decide when to say ‘no’.
Strategy puts you in control
Strategy puts you in control; it cuts reactivity, and gives direction for your team. Rather than following peers as they start utilising particular tools or attending particular events, strategy allows you to look forward and seek out opportunities that support your aims. It allows you to take action, proactively, rather than being distracted by the increasingly deafening ‘noise’ of the day to day.
Strategy increases the impact of what you do
With a clear set of aims it becomes easier not only to select the right activities, but also to join them up, to orchestrate them, so that they work together to create more impact than each would in isolation.
John Wanamaker, famously said ‘I know half of advertising is wasted, trouble is I don’t know which half’. The same applies to broader marketing activity. For instance, a one off article in the press generates a little profile on that day. A series of related activities before and after, plus the use of social media can create sustained profile over a longer period.
This means you get more value from limited time and budget.
It supports recruitment, retention and motivation
Good people are difficult to find – particularly when, as at the moment, the market is hot. The existence of exciting aspirations and a real intent to reach them are compelling reasons for staff to join you. Once they’re with you this vision for the future gives them reason to stay – everyone likes to be part of a success story.
Strategy is nothing without great execution
Once the strategy is agreed, you’ll need a plan of action; an essential part of this being resources – people, time and money. Allocation of actions is usually straightforward; doing them is often more troublesome. So, real commitment at the outset, then regular conversations to push things along and provide accountability are essential.
Strategies and plans must be realistic. Better to do one thing well than set off in five directions and achieve nothing.
A little time for strategy can save you A LOT of wasted time and effort. It provides a framework to help you make good decisions; it puts you in control by clarifying your aims and then orchestrating activities towards them. It helps you tell a more compelling story to your team and potential staff. Plus, importantly, focused and efficient organisations with highly motivated people are of course much more attractive to clients.
I help architects and consultants across the built environment to clarify their aims and then input knowledge, ideas and thinking to help to create and support implementation of an effective strategy – if you would like to discuss your next steps please get in touch.