A colleague and I found ourselves this week agreeing that we needed a “strategy” for a particular matter, but that neither of us completely knew what, for our purposes, that strategy looked like: a two page rubric? A business plan? A SWOT analysis? I think I was as surprised as he was that such a basic requirement had us at a complete loss. Needless to say, neither of us had an MBA.
We throw around the word “strategy” a lot at work. What we mean by it is very different, depending on the audience and the norms of the corner of the company you’re working with. A superior’s tactic can feel like a strategy to a subordinate, and vice versa. A sufficient strategy for one business can feel like a vague statement of intentions to another. The confusion is compounded by our Open Organization
, which insists that norms for this kind of thing emerge from consensus-building and cooperation instead of a memo from the CEO.
Elsewhere this week, Joe
and I presented our container strategy to the Board. It was a hard conversation because they asked all the right questions. I think it went as well as we could have hoped, and not because we’d rehearsed, not that we had a clear vision of the container market, or that we had taxonomies and vocabularies for describing it. What helped us, ultimately, is that we knew what we wanted from it. That gave us the gift of context as we fielded those questions.
At the same time, we closed out our end-of-year employee review process. I enjoyed the navel-gazing and fantasizing that came from it, and it gave me an opportunity to learn what my staff wanted personally and professionally, and what they wanted from me. Folks who were doing well had a very clear idea about what they wanted, and even if they were having some temporary setback or challenge, they were satisfied on the whole. Folks who were frustrated almost uniformly were not.
At home, my wife and I had a misunderstanding over some domestic matter, and at the heart of it was the fact that neither of us had made it clear to the other what we wanted from the other. One of us might have said what we didn’t want, and the other might have assumed that we understood each other, but that’s not sufficient. Of course.
So that’s the lesson of the week. So what do I want for myself? What do I want from my team? What do I want from the products, from the field, from our partners? To the extent I can answer those questions concretely, and communicate those answers clearly to others, I have a strategy – and everything else begins to take care of itself.
Of course, knowing, with moral certainty, what you want is comically hard. So that’s the work.