Monday, August 20, 2012

Overcoming the Ostrich Strategy by Effectively Using Your Strategic Plan

I would like to welcome Ward C. Schendel, a business coach based in Minnesota, to my blog. Ward and I met because we’re both guest bloggers for a legal and marketing blog called DuetsBlog, and we recently had a discussion about the importance of strategic plans. Based on our discussion, we decided to collaborate on a joint post, and it follows below. For more information about Ward, check out his website and connect on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Sohrab Vossoughi, founder of consultancy Ziba, 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 – this 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 and ineffective business strategy for avoiding difficult challenges.

If a business is making money, increasing its customer base, and receiving positive feedback, does it still need a strategy? Absolutely! 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 leader, resemble an ostrich and bury your head in the sand?

Some companies are created from innovative ideas. Consider Apple’s iPod or iPhone,, 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, instead, move through the motions. Top leadership teams monitor employees but don’t share leadership strategies. Even worse, these leaders don’t share their strategic vision, which results in poor employee morale. When employees understand their part in the overall strategy, they feel empowered, engaged, and valued – and they genuinely 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 (on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.) align with a company’s annual marketing plan and traditional campaigns (email marketing, printed brochures, main website or landing pages, public relations, and advertising)?

So how do business owners and executives avoid the ostrich strategy? First, develop a strategic plan that answers the following five questions:

[1] What is the basis (core values) for your business?
[2] What is the why (purpose) behind your business?
[3] Where do you want your business to be 10 years from now?
[4] What are you going to do to get there? (1-year goals and initiatives)
[5] How will you achieve your goals? (Action steps for the next quarter)

Second, own and follow your strategic plan. When challenges arise, and they will, immediately turn to your strategic plan. It will provide the roadmap you need to meet your challenges. If an effective strategic plan exists, the answers to your challenges will be firmly in place. This doesn’t mean that you won’t need to make adjustments from time to time, but it does mean that the foundation exists to guide you in making those adjustments.

Consider this 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 following Buzz as the head of the company. The problem was that Buzz had a loyal employee (Nick) who had worked with him for years, knew the business inside-out, and had a much better business sense than Junior. What should Buzz do?

Fortunately, Buzz had worked with a coach and developed a strategic plan. He identified his values, which were integrity and treating employees with respect and gratitude so that the employees would duplicate the same behavior with customers and vendors. Buzz pulled out his one-page strategic plan. He searched the section that answered the question: What is the why behind your business? There was nothing about taking care of Junior. Instead, there was a section about values, integrity, and treating employees with respect and gratitude. For Buzz, the answer was clear: Junior could be an employee, but according to the succession plan, Nick was his first choice.

If Buzz had demonstrated the ostrich strategy, he would have avoided a decision. But by effectively using his strategic plan, Buzz addressed the issue and followed the company’s core values. In other words, his strategic plan achieved its intended purpose.

Has YOUR company overcome the ostrich strategy with a strategic plan?

Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out his work at

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