Debbie Laskey and Ward Schendel

We all learn a great deal from DuetsBlog and the legal and marketing community assembled by Steve Baird and his team.  As guest bloggers on DuetsBlog, we, Debbie Laskey and Ward Schendel, recently had a conversation about the importance of strategic planning and decided to collaborate on a joint post.  For more about Debbie and Ward, connect on LinkedIn.

Sohrab Vossoughi, founder/president/chief creative director of Ziba, a Portland, Oregon, based design and innovation consultancy, said, “When root problems aren’t solved, you only get momentary innovation.” The best way to solve root problems is to address them in your strategic plan and then follow the plan. That will reduce the tendency to use the ostrich strategy.

The Ostrich Strategy is named after the myth that an ostrich, when in danger, will bury its head in the sand. For purposes of this post, we are using the ostrich myth as the basis for what has become a popular, though most ineffective, strategy in business, government, and academia for avoiding difficult challenges.

If a business is making money, increasing its customer base, and receiving positive feedback, does it still need a strategy? You bet. What happens when the company starts losing customers? What happens when some of those positive reviews turn negative? And what happens when employees start making their exodus? Do you, as a business owner or executive, resemble an ostrich and bury your head in the sand?

Some companies are created from innovative ideas. Consider Apple’s iPod or iPhone, Amazon.com, 1800Flowers.com, or Starbucks – these companies and/or their products transformed industries. Consider how easy it has become to make online purchases instead of driving to the mall. These companies and many others, both large and small, have strategic plans that set the stage for all contingencies, both good and bad.

But the truth is, many companies lack a strategic plan. They choose to move through the motions on a daily basis. Top leadership teams monitor employees but don’t share leadership strategies. Even worse, these leaders don’t share the company’s strategic vision, which results in poor employee morale. When employees understand their part in the overall strategy, they feel empowered and valued – and they want to give 110% to support the overall strategy of the business.

A perfect example about the lack of strategic planning in the marketing arena is social media. Many CEOs and marketing teams jump into social media by haphazardly creating a Facebook page or Twitter page without evaluating how those efforts will impact the overall marketing plan. Do a company’s target customers actually visit Facebook and Twitter? Will the target customers comment and interact if those pages are created? Do personnel exist to consistently update and maintain these pages? Lastly, how does a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, etc.) align with a company’s annual marketing plan and traditional marketing campaigns (such as, email marketing, printed brochures, main website or landing pages, public relations, and advertising)?

How do business owners and executives avoid the ostrich strategy? In a previous post, Ward presented five questions that should be answered in a strategic plan:

What is the Basis for your business? – Your core values
What is the Why behind your business? – Its purpose
Where do you want your business to be 10-30 years from now?
What are you going to do to get there? – Your 1-year goals and initiatives
How will you achieve your goals? – Action steps to take in the next quarter

The first thing you must do to avoid the ostrich strategy is to develop a strategic plan that answers the above questions. Focus on the core values, the why and the where. These are the questions that will propel your business in the direction you want it to go. The what and how are the instruments that turn the why and where into reality.

Second, you must own your strategic plan. You must follow it. When challenges arise, and they will, turn immediately to your strategic plan. It will provide the roadmap you need to follow in order to meet the challenges head on. Remind yourself of the basis for your business – your core values. Remind yourself of the purpose of your business. If an effective strategic plan exists, the answers to your challenges will be firmly in place – in your strategic plan. This doesn’t mean that the answers to the What and How questions won’t need to be adjusted from time to time and challenge to challenge. It does mean that the foundation (the core values and the purpose of your business) exist to guide you in making the adjustments.

Here’s an example. A business owner (“Buzz”) was faced with a dilemma. His son (“Junior”) had recently obtained his college degree and wanted to join the family business. Junior expressed an interest in succeeding Buzz as the head of the company. The problem: Buzz had a loyal employee (“Nick”) who had worked with Buzz for years, knew the business inside-out, and had a much better business sense than Junior. So what was Buzz to do?

Fortunately, Buzz had worked with a coach to develop a strategic plan over the last year. He had identified his values, which were integrity and treating employees with respect and gratitude so that the employees would do the same to customers and vendors. The purpose of the business (his why) was to make the world a better place one person at a time. Buzz pulled out his one-page strategic plan and studied it. He searched the core values. He searched the section that answers the question: What is the why behind your business? Nowhere was there anything about creating a dynasty, advancing nepotism, or taking care of Junior. There was the value to act with integrity, the value to treat employees with respect and gratitude.

For Buzz, the answer was clear. Junior could certainly be an employee of the business – Junior would be treated with respect and gratitude, just as Buzz treated the other employees. And, Buzz would make Junior (and Nick) aware of the fact that Buzz was developing a succession plan and that Nick was his first choice. The Ostrich Strategy would have had Buzz avoiding the decision and the discussion, hoping the dilemma would disappear. But by effectively using his Strategic Plan, Buzz addressed the issue and followed the company’s core values. In other words, the Strategic Plan achieved its intended purpose.

So, does your company abide by the ostrich strategy or do you have a strategic plan that helps guide your business?

  • Steve Baird

    Debbie and Ward, we love the collaboration, thanks for sharing your joint insights and perspectives on this interesting and important topic. We’re also gratified to have helped you connect with one another. Thanks again, Steve.