I remember back in the nineties, the management team of every new start up investing serious amounts of time on three things ‘Vision, Mission and Promise’. In fact, not so many got to the ‘Promise’ bit because it was rather vague and complex. By the noughties though, Promise had been phased out and replaced by ‘core values’ and we all got busy on those. However, the big challenge that settings these extremely important parameters failed to meet was to later prove fundamental in the failure of so many start-ups.

You can have a clear vision of the future and exactly which markets require your products or services. You can even have a clear, well defined mission statement; what it is you are going to do. And sure, your ‘promise’ or ‘core values’ will define the way in which you and your staff will behave in getting there. But the one vital ingredient missing was ‘Strategy’: how you are actually going to achieve your mission.  And although most companies had business plans, spreadsheets and marketing plans, no sooner were these ‘Bible’ type documents written, they were too quickly filed at the bottom of the cabinet of daily business life.

Today, if you want to keep your business on the right strategic track, everyone in your organisation needs to know what your strategy actually is, so they can be sure of following it and not wondering off on interesting but irrelevant activities.

One way to achieve alignment is by defining three words that sum up your strategy. For example:

Assume your core strategy to becoming best in class is to

1.       Constantly look for ways to improve the quality of your products

2.       To improve your margins

3.       To find ways of adapting to change quicker than your competitors.

In the above case you might want to adopt the following three words:

Quality – Margins – Agility

In this way you would hammer home to your entire staff (including yourself!) to consider quality, margins and agility in each and every decision they take.

It works like this:

When John comes to you with a new idea, you ask him: “This sounds great John but how does it help us improve our Quality, Margins or Agility?”

If John’s answer to your question is too vague then he should be encouraged to go back and re-think his idea.

Of course this is very high-level and rather obvious but the three word trick works extremely well on a daily basis. I remember on one project our three strategic words were: ‘standardize’, ‘simplify’, ‘automate’. And they worked extraordinarily well in keeping everyone’s focus on the real challenge ie that there were far too many ways of doing the same thing within the business, creating unnecessary complexity, errors and extreme in-efficiency.

The three word rule works great for charities too

Have a good week,