Simplicity is the key to a successful strategy

If you were to ask me the question: “What is the most common strategy failure you see?” My answer would come quickly and it would be one word long: complexity.

Simply, most strategies that organizations develop an try to implement fail because they are too complex and leave the entire team looking around, scratching their heads.

Complexity is the enemy of your strategy for any number of reasons, but 3 that I want to focus on here.

  1. Too much complexity leads to paralysis: We have all been there, staring at a list a mile long full of possible routes, ideas, and actions to take. And, we have all probably felt that same rush of apprehension and anxiety because we have so many choices in front of us that we can’t possibly figure out which one is correct. With so many things to choose from and no correct way to rank them, paralysis is a likely outcome.
  2. Complexity can be used as a crutch to defining value: How’s this for a scenario? Have you ever seen a company that doesn’t know what it really, truly is and tries to compensate for that by doing a little bit of everything? I’m sure you have. In many cases, complexity is used to try and hide from the conversation about real, defined value.
  3. Complexity never allow you to highlight your strengths: The one thing that I have always noticed about needlessly complex organizations is that they never highlight one specific strength or a few specific strengths. Instead, they just keep piling on activities and noise…until you have no clue what the company is really good at.

Well, that is pretty depressing…so what do you do to fight back?

  1. Define your value: The most simple action you can take as a company, and one that should be the lead on any kind of strategic effort is to define your real value add. What are the tangible and intangible pieces of value you create for your clients? Define them in a real, meaningful way so that you could easily tell a potential partner or client what exactly you do.
  2. Simplify your strategy: If you have taken the time to identify and explain your value, it should be much easier for you to come up with a simplified strategy. Let’s use my marketing strategy as an example. I do four things over and over: write, speak, network, and ask for referrals. Over and over. If you have done a good job of defining your value, you should be able to identify and simplify your strategy into 4 or 5 specific actions as well.
  3. Execute and assess: Something we should all be familiar with at this point is the idea that strategy without execution is a waste and that execution without any kind of assessment is also a waste. So if you are going to simplify your strategy, you really need to focus on narrowing your actions down to the point that you can easily execute and assess them, over and over. So that you are never too far away from a point where you can say something like: “this isn’t working, we need to adjust” or “this is great and we need to figure out how to do more of this.”

What do you think? How is complexity ruining your company’s strategy? Or, how have you simplified your business’s strategy?