A CEO attending one of my workshops recently gave this reason for not focusing his team on business strategy development: “We’re too busy executing to spend time on strategy.”

This statement raised my eyebrows. I asked the CEO to tell me more. “My people are working really hard, and they are always complaining that they have too much to do, and too little time. We have so many initiatives underway that we can’t afford to look up into the clouds and discuss 50,000-foot strategies. We have to keep working.”

I have a strong hunch why the CEO’s people are so busy. With no strategy to guide them, every idea looks like a good idea, and there are few filters for determining what to do — and what not to do. Without strategy, opinion, precedent and guesswork are the only criteria for deciding where to spend time and resources, and this leads to spending time and resources on many activities of little or no value.

Business strategy doesn’t only operate at 50,000 feet. Good strategy also serves as a guide to help companies make decisions about ground level, day-to-day execution.

The To-Don’t List

Good strategy not only helps you know what to do, it helps you know what not to do. It not only helps you create to-do lists, it helps you create the all-important to-don’t list.

Here are some components of the to-don’t list you should create, guided by your business strategies:

  • What business results should we not strive for?
    • You don’t have the resources to create all possible business outcomes, so you need to focus on those that are most important. For example, don’t focus efforts on small, unprofitable product lines if they are distracting you from a focus on other things that can contribute more to your success.
  • Which customers should we ignore?
    • Knowing who your customers should be is important, and so is knowing who your customers shouldn’t be. An example: Many professional service firms (lawyers, accountants, financial advisors) tell me they want bigger clients but, upon reflection, realize that bigger clients aren’t necessarily more profitable clients. Good strategy could help these firms avoid wasting resources on clients that seem desirable, but really aren’t.
  • What shouldn’t we tell our customers?
    • Your customers can only absorb so much information about your company and its products and services. Restrain yourself! Chop off the bottom five bullet points and communicate a much more concise, understandable story.
  • Which marketing communications should we avoid?
    • Most marketing communications don’t work. Don’t create communications just because you did the same thing last year, or because your competitors are using a certain medium. Let your business strategies help you choose the right media to reach your most important customers and drive your most important business outcomes.

We all have limited resources. Creating a to-don’t list, with the help of solid strategic thinking, is one of the best ways to allocate these limited resources in the most productive ways.

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