Strategic doing

From Faster Than 20

Think of the small as large and the few as many. Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.


Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist. The giant pine tree grows from a tiny sprout. The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action by letting things take their course. He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning. He has nothing, thus has nothing to lose. What he desires is non-desire; what he learns is to unlearn. He simply reminds people of who they have always been. He cares about nothing but the Tao. Thus he can care for all things.

—Laozi, Tao Te Ching (tr. by Stephen Miller), Chapters 63-64

A group comes alive and performs at its peak when it acts strategically — what we like to call "strategic doing." Having a clear and compelling strategy is only one aspect of strategic doing. You need a process and structures that build alignment and that activate your group, and you need the muscles and mindsets to implement the strategy.

2013 study of 20 high-performing Australian companies with clearly articulated public strategies. Asked employees to identify their company's strategy. Only 30% answered correctly.[1]

What Is Strategy?

Strategy encompasses a group's goals and its path for reaching those goals.

A good strategy:

  • Includes a clear and compelling vision. (See Visioning for more on how to create one)
  • Has S.M.A.R.T. goals toward achieving that vision
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Relevant
    • Time-bound
  • Makes for a good story
  • Is one that everyone knows and owns. Most groups fail this test. On average, only 5 percent of the workforce know their organization's strategy

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning attempts to answer three questions:

  • Where are we now? (Evaluation)
  • Where do we want to go? (Visioning, goals)
  • How do we get there? (Strategy)

Traditional processes break down into three distinct phases:

The Scan consists of:

  • Developing a shared understanding of the landscape (e.g. building a shared model)
  • Tapping into both internal and external wisdom. The former is about understanding where the group is at; the latter is about overcoming narrow thinking
  • Aggregating data

Tools for scanning include:

One way to assess the model is through role play using tools like matrix games.

We don't believe that strategic planning (or any process, for that matter) can truly be linear. More importantly, as you think about shifting from planning to //activation//, you not only need to acknowledge the nonlinearity of how people work, you need to embrace it.

The framework we use for strategic planning does just that:

File:Strategy framework.jpg

The first thing to note about this framework is that the arrows between the three core questions are bidirectional. It's okay for people to go in whatever order they wish to go in, as long as they eventually explore and answer all three questions.

The second thing to note is the different levels at which to answer all three questions. An organization's strategy needs to align with an individual's strategy, which needs to align with the broader strategy of a network, and so forth. For strategic planning to be effective, strategic questions need to be explored at multiple levels.


  1. "When CEOs Talk Strategy, Is Anyone Listening?" Harvard Business Review (June 2013).