company strategy map

6 Attributes of an effective strategy

company strategy map

Picture credit: Martin Oberhäuser

At its essence, strategy is a guide to behavior. And, when communicating your strategic intent, the most important goal is conveying your unique aspects and advantages with specific and engaging words.

This is hard. But, if you’re not being challenged at coming up with an effective strategy statement, you’re not trying hard enough. Because It is a real challenge to translate strategy into execution, this is something we must continually work at, that is, communicating strategy. Research has found that only %14 of employees understand their company’s strategy and direction.

The strategy might be flawed, but even if it’s flawed communication will not fix the problem. That is why you have to be clear and specific. For example, one of the most clear specific strategy statements I’ve ever heard is from Southwest Airlines (not surprise here huh?): To be the low-cost airline.

Everything flows from that statement. It helps clarify decision making at every level of the organization to the point where there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of what they have to do. To get to that point, Southwest Airlines also had to come up with a very clear and specific strategy.

With that said, before writing an effective strategy statement, we must get the strategy right.

Here are 6 key attributes of an effective strategy, from the book The Strategist: Be the Leader your business needs:

The 6 Hallmarks of Great Strategies

  1. Anchored by a clear and compelling purpose. It is said that “if you don’t know where you’re going, there isn’t a road that can get you there.” Organizations should exist for a reason. What’s yours?
  2. Add real value. Organizations that have a difference that matters add value. If any of them were to go away, they would be missed. Would yours?
  3. Clear choices. Excellence comes from well-defined effort. Attempting to do too many things makes it difficult to do any of them well. What has your business decided to do? To not do?
  4. Tailored system of value creation. The first step in great execution is translating an idea into a system of action, where efforts are aligned and mutually reinforcing. Does this describe your business? In most companies, the true answer is no.
  5. Meaningful metrics. Global outcome measures like ROI indicate whether a strategy is working, but key performance drivers, tailored to your own strategy, are a better indication. They break big aspirations into specific, measurable goals, and guide behavior toward what matters.
  6. Passion. It’s a soft concept, but it’s at the heart of every great strategy. Even in the most mundane industries, companies that stand out care deeply about what they do.

Execution is more important than strategy?

Execution is where the rubber meets the road. You might be able to conceive a beautiful strategy, but if the strategy is not understood by all stakeholders, execution will be flawed.

Still curious about how to effectively communicate your strategy?

Another book that talks about this same topic is Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers. Here are a few articles for to drill down the point: Making strategy simple and a video on how to do it.

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  • Kevin McFarthing

    Hi Jorge – one way I like to approach strategy is – inputs, then options and finally choices. The inputs are internal factors, external trends, potential areas of advantage etc. Creative thinking and strong analysis then develop the options. Choices are then made about what to do and what not to do. You are so right about the strategic intent statement, that you should have a good strategy first. Like so many mission statements, the strategic intent is so often bland – “to be the customer’s #1 choice”; “to deliver quality products” etc. It should be clear, inspiring and differentiating, then you will have your people and the external world on the same page.


    • Hi Kevin @innovationfixer,

      Interesting. Similar to you (inputs), I start off with “what is?” as in the current state. I then go to to “what if?” to develop alternatives (options), “what wows?” to iterate and test assumptions and then finally “what works?” (choices). Of course, this is continuous as strategy making is not a “set if and forget it” process.

      I believe values are overlooked as defining choices (what not do to) from the outset. Therefore, companies that end copying everyone else have no guiding values. I think being clear on values would help clarifying ones strategic intent.

      What are your thoughts on values?



      • Kevin McFarthing

        Hi Jorge = I agree, values are important. Unless it’s a start up/big change scenario, I would assess (and hopefully confirm) core company values in the input stage. Values are not something to change at every strategic review. This is also relevant to brands, that have values and personalities that again shouldn’t change much, but should be reviewed in depth to ensure continued relevance to customers.


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