A simple test for your strategic marketing and business initiatives

This is a guest post by Shawn Callahan – Founder of Anecdote, a management consulting firm that uses its expertise in story to inspire enduring change.

Richard Rummelt, in Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, opened my eyes to a simple test to help you see if you have effective strategic initiatives.
But before I describe the test here’s some context.

Crafting a strategy involves choosing a course of action to achieve desired outcomes over a set time period. An effective strategy makes real choices between competing approaches–as well as providing space for new possibilities to emerge.

I like to call this test of considering the opposite the Costanza gambit after the Seinfeld character who successfully employs the opposite as his new strategy for life.

For example a company might want to increase its market share. It might do this by increasing sales, buying competitors, expanding its geographic market or a myriad of other approaches. The strategic craft is to decide which approach to choose or combine and apply.

There are always more than one way to achieve your desired outcomes and your strategy should describe the choices your company has made. A good choice is usually a well considered and often tough choice.

What you will often see, however, in most strategic plans, are initiatives that don’t reflect a real choice.

Here are a few examples:

  • We will provide great customer service – was there really a choice to provide poor customer service?
  • We will delight our clients – had we considered underwhelming them?
  • Empower our employees – not many companies succeed disempowering their employees no matter how many try

What are often portrayed as strategic initiatives are really the outcomes we are hoping to achieve. They don’t reflect what we’ve decided to do and therefore don’t provide an effective strategy.

So, the test is simply this: take a strategic initiative and consider the opposite. If the opposite is a nonsense then reconsider your strategic initiative and make a real choice. If, on the other hand, the opposite is a viable possibility then a real choice has been made, in which case employees will want to know why and that’s where a strategic story is important.

I like to call this test of considering the opposite the Costanza gambit after the Seinfeld character who successfully employs the opposite as his new strategy for life. Check out this 3 minute clip of the show where George Costanza has his epiphany.

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About Shawn Callahan

Shawn is a pioneer in the application of story methods to business and has helped some of the world’s top companies, including IBM, Shell, AMP and KPMG, to inspire lasting change and make sure their company values really stick. He regularly publishes his world-leading ideas on anecdote.com.au, one of Australia’s most visited blogs.
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One Response to A simple test for your strategic marketing and business initiatives

  1. TrinityP3 says:

    Great post Shawn. One of the issues we often find is people confusing objectives or goals for strategy. Being number one is category is clearly a objective or goal, but it is certainly not how you get there. When I was at JWT they had a strategy process based around the questions: 1. Where are we now and why? 2. Where do we want to be and when? (Objective) 3. How do we get there? (Strategy) 4. How will we know when we get there? (Measurement). It provided a very simple way to define each part of a plan. Have you seen anything similar?

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