What Makes a Winning Strategy? (Part 1)

Define, Develop and Evaluate

Sixty-five percent of senior executives do not believe that their company has a winning strategy, and CEO’s and CSO’s are given the arduous task of continuously convincing them otherwise.[1]

How can a CEO convince their executive teams they do in fact have a winning strategy amidst so much doubt – especially when the ‘final answer’ can only be empirically derived?

Indeed, not everyone is going to be a believer, and you can’t get around the ‘empirical law’ of having to wait to observe the end-result. But you can ask a few important questions (below) about your strategy that can give your executive team greater sustained confidence that you do indeed have a ‘winning strategy:’

  1. Define: Is what I have really a strategy?
  2. Develop: Was my strategy appropriately developed?
  3. Evaluate: How should I evaluate my strategy prior to launch?

Here I’ll share some insights gathered from a few recent conversations with C-suite executives to help answer the first question; ‘Is what I have really a strategy?’

Confusion and misapplication

Most of the leaders I spoke to pointed out the need to cut through the confusion. The term ‘strategy’ in many organizations is often conflated and misapplied. Concepts are deemed ‘strategies,’ initiatives are ‘strategies,’ ideas are ‘strategies,’ business cases are ‘strategies,’ and so it often continues.

Ultimately, the problem with this misapplication is it dilutes both the importance, and distinction of a winning corporate or business unit strategy. Starting with clear parameters for what can be deemed a ‘strategy’ is a valuable first step to convincing your executive teams that you have a ‘winning strategy.’

Descriptive parameters of a winning strategy

A few of the executives I spoke to also shared some of their short-hand descriptive parameters used for corporate and business unit strategy development. Reviewing the below, alongside your corporate or business unit strategy can be helpful to see how clearly you have defined your corporate strategy.

  • Problem Statement: Is there a clear articulation of the current state of the business and the challenges it faces grounded in an agreed-upon fact base?
  • Vision: Is there a future state to be achieved that has been clearly defined and agreed-upon?
  • Intentional: Is the strategy derived through a reflection of the past, is it inclusive of the current situation, and the future it hopes to create?
  • Narrative: Does it follow a narrative arc; is there an exposition, a plot, a rising action, a climax, and resolution?
  • Initiatives: Is there a clear direction that shows what resources, what actions, what tools, and what coordination must be undertaken to reach the future state?
  • Ownership: Are there clear owners responsible for inputs, milestones, and outputs?
  • Outcomes & milestones: Are there clear milestones that demonstrate progress and outcomes that measure end-results?
  • Time-bound: Is there a beginning and an end proposed in your strategy?
  • Resources: Have the resources required to implement the strategy been outlined in detail?
  • Documented: Is the strategy documented in a strategic plan and accessible by relevant stakeholders?
  • Agreement: Is there agreement and commitment on the strategy with the right stakeholders?

Hopefully, you were able tick-off all of the descriptive parameters with regards to your corporate or business unit strategy. If not, perhaps there is some room for improvement.

In the next post I’ll discuss the second question; ‘Was my strategy appropriately developed?’ as confidence in a winning strategy often comes as much by how it was derived as by the actual strategy. After which, I’ll share some insight on the third question by applying some evaluative parameters to your strategy to help answer the question; ‘How should I evaluate my strategy prior to launch?’


[1] Paul LeinwandNils Naujok, and Joachim Rotering “State of Strategy”

Start a Conversation

Thank you for your interest in Cicero Group. Please select from the options below to get in touch with us.