Why Strategic Alignment is Crucial to Sound Execution

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” This statement by Sun Tzu was originally made in the context of war, but I’ve found it to be perfectly applicable within marketing today. Here’s how I’d rephrase it: Strategy and tactics are both crucial to win in business, but you will always fail if you don’t have a strategy.

Think about your own company. Do you have an overarching strategy for the entire organization? Your objectives and the way in which you plan to achieve them should be the backbone of all other strategies within the business. Using this as a springboard, each of your departments should develop their own strategies that all work toward the same outcomes. And all this should be done long before tactics are derived and deployed.

Strategic Failure: Lack of Capacity, not Capability

When I meet with a company for the first time, I always want to learn more about where their strategy stands, what the organization is trying to accomplish. More often than not, really great companies are missing strategic alignment because of a lack of capacity, not capability. They’re moving so quickly and trying to meet so many demands they’re just struggling to stay afloat.

It can take a great deal of discipline to pause, take a step back and ask if you need to rewind a bit to do some foundational work before continuing or changing what you have going on tactically. If you’re struggling to find the time and resources to press pause and reevaluate your strategic alignment, remember this: One step backward in strategy empowers you to take two steps forward into effective execution. Until you’re strategically aligned, you’ll be spinning your wheels.

This is a big part of why we developed what we call the Revenue Acceleration Framework, which starts with defining strategy, then moves into planning and tactics. Unless you have that framework to build upon, your path to success is going to be slowed or potentially blocked altogether.

Documented, Visible and Communicated

You’re not alone if you’ve had trouble taking a pause and revisiting your strategies throughout your organization. But once you do, the work still isn’t done. The next critical component is to actually document your strategies, then share them with your team and keep them accessible.

I’ve never seen a company with a documented strategy that was horribly misaligned. Don’t get me wrong – documenting your strategy isn’t a magic bullet that somehow transforms your organization. But, it does ensure that your strategy has been clearly defined and that there’s no confusion about where every person and every department should be headed.

Next, while it’s great for the leadership to be on board with your strategic direction, you need all your team members to embrace it. Keep your written strategies in a visible place and make sure to communicate your goals and vision with every employee, so everyone has a chance to be truly aligned.

Signs You’re in Misalignment

If you’ve done all this and are still feeling like you might have some misalignment, here are two ways to quickly tell if this is the case.

  • There’s conflict between your goals and what you’re being asked to provide. Here’s an example. If your company’s big-picture strategy is to gain 50 percent plus market share, your marketing department’s strategy might be focused around increasing brand awareness (with an emphasis on national tradeshows and advertising in trade publications). If you’re getting asked by your CEO to provide collateral for your customer service team, the tactic might be a nice one – but it’s not in line with your strategies.
  • There’s conflict between two or more departments. It’s no secret that sales and marketing haven’t always played well together. There’s been an increased focus in the last couple years on improving these relationships, and that’s certainly to everyone’s benefit. But if you still are hearing the age-old complaints from sales about not getting enough leads (or qualified leads) from marketing, or marketing saying sales isn’t doing enough with the leads they give them, there’s major misalignment.

In order to get your whole team cohesively working toward the same shared outcomes, invite all departments into your strategic discussions. Then ask everyone to work together to come up with common definitions (e.g. what is a lead, a sales qualified lead, a marketing qualified lead, etc.) and to openly voice their concerns and priorities around strategies and tactics. This will help you to become more united as an organization, and prevent the blame game from getting unleashed if something doesn’t pan out as expected.

Before you can execute tactics effectively, you’ve got to rally your entire team around the same overarching strategy. And each department needs to have its own defined strategic direction that contributes meaningfully to that big-picture objective. Only then can you fix misalignment and begin to soundly deploy tactics that will get you from where you are to where you want to be.

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