Strategy = Execution

Why it’s not enough to ask why

In strategy-setting we invariably have to address the Big Why. In Building Block 1 of the process I discuss in Strategy = Execution, I dissect how organizations go about formulating their ambitions and plotting their strategic course. Since Simon Sinek published Start With Why, we’re all aware of the importance of answering the Big Why. But that’s not enough to help your strategy to really take off.

I’ve called Sinek the most misquoted management guru on the planet. The man spread a very powerful and indispensable thought: Start with Why. But he never said that the How and What were less important. If anything, without the How and What, the Why is an illusion. And yet, this is what I keep coming across in my consultancy practice: glowing, tear-jerking stories about the big why, without any reference to the nitty-gritty of the how and what. What a waste.

Building Block 1, AMBITION, is made up of the following components: your mission, vision, values and the Big Why. Together, these create a good jumping off point for further development of your strategy, the how and the what. Key questions are: Why does your organization exist? What does it want to be and for whom? What does it believe in?

It’s always good to clarify your answers to these basic questions, because these concepts are especially prone to causing big misunderstandings.

Your mission expresses your organization’s goals, or its raison d’être. Your values describe your organization’s motives, which are reflected in every employee’s conduct. Taken together, they are the compass that sets everyone’s daily course. Your vision, which is worded in ambitious, visionary and inspiring language, expresses your organization’s future position in the market and in relation to its customers. The Big Why addresses purpose, the reason your organization does what it does in terms of its more deep-seated motives and drives. Let’s take a closer look at that last point.

Hot

The why is hot. The example of President Kennedy’s assertion in the early 1960s that America would put a man on the moon by the decade’s end is something of a cliché as far as ambitious goals go, but it makes the point well. A more down-to-earth example was expressed by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who said he wants his organization to have doubled its revenue and halved its carbon footprint by 2020.

Another good example is Starbucks, which was once a small company with a seemingly impossible goal. The well-known coffee brand started in 1971 with a single coffee shop in Seattle. When Starbucks CEO and spiritual father Howard Schultz bought the company in 1987, its mission statement was to “[e]stablish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world, while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.” At the end of that fiscal year, the Starbucks Corporation had 17 coffee shops and Schultz’s mission seemed pretty outlandish. But as everyone knows, he stuck to his guns and in 2015 the company had 22,519 shops and Starbucks coffee was sold in more than 65 countries.

BHAG

There are various terms in use that are more or less synonymous with the Big Why, which can be confusing. One well-known example is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Specifically in the field of digital innovation, there is another one: the Massive Transformative Purpose, or MTP. According to Yuri van Geest of Singularity University, every exponential organization has an MTP, which is defined as a higher purpose for making radical changes while also making the world a better place.

It makes no difference whether you’re talking about socially responsible goals or commercial ambitions, or whether the company in question is big or small. In all contexts, you need a lofty goal to shoot for, to motivate your workforce, to hold on to talent, and to give meaning to what you do every day.

But such an audacious goal has its own criteria too. It should appeal to a deep need in the market or in society, and it should be based on logical arguments. And yes, before you start raising objections, I know those are subjective criteria—but that shouldn’t stop you. It wasn’t too long ago that a 16-year old Dutch kid said he’d design a way to rid the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic. People claimed it was impossible, but today Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup system is actually in the Pacific. The dream was turned into a series of tangible experiments; iterations generate quick fails and successes and show what does and does not work. Innovation = Execution.

Anchor

Whenever you do a strategic analysis and plot your course, answering the Big Why is the only sensible way to start. Simon Sinek explains this in Start With Why. He argues that companies can only maintain the justification for their existence if it is clear why they do what they do and if they are able to communicate their belief in this why to their customers and employees. If these two groups believe in your motives, they will continue to be ambassadors for your company.

You need more than a why, however. Only the laziest of change agents would be content to merely answer the why. “Start with why,” wrote Sinek, not “leave it at why.”

The Big Why is the most important anchor for all subsequent questions.  Why do you, as a leader or professional, do what you do? And why does your business do what it does? What deeper motivation drives you to show up every day for work and put your best foot forward? Only when every leader and professional knows the answers to these questions will your strategy start to really take off.

Strategy = Execution. Improve, Renew and Innovate Faster

How can organizations make strategy execution their number one priority? And improve, renew and innovate faster? This I describe in my book Strategy = Execution. Strategy = execution is based on the research that Turner started years ago into the success factors of strategy execution and innovation. We interviewed 60 directors and professionals and analyzed more than 75 cases, 300 relevant books and articles.

  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy.
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Bahasa.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.
  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Indonesian.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.

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