Tuning Up Your Strategy so the Wheels Don’t Fall Off

Mechanic Performing Wheel AlignmentToday’s post is by Rich Horwath, author of Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The wheels came off,” to describe a situation where things went bad. Meetings, projects and even relationships all have the potential for “the wheels to come off.” Ironically, cars are the vehicles we most often use with wheels and they very rarely come off. This is in part due to the alignment of their tires using the camber angle. Wheels with a positive camber angle have the top of the wheel farther out than the bottom. Wheels with a negative camber angle have the bottom of the wheel farther out than the top. Wheels with a camber angle of zero are vertically straight. And if the wheels aren’t aligned with one another with the proper camber angles, they may literally fall off.

Consider the alignment of strategy in your business, across functional areas and from a hierarchical perspective. Does your strategy align vertically and horizontally like a Formula One car or a jalopy with the wheels about to fall off? There are three elements to consider when optimizing the alignment of strategy for your business:

1. Goals. Not having clearly defined goals across the business is a key obstacle in creating sound strategy alignment. Not having clearly defined goals in business is like two World Cup soccer teams being sent onto the pitch without being told which goals they are shooting at and defending until after the match was over. A universal understanding of the goals is an essential but often overlooked aspect of business planning. Is the goal to grow profits, increase market share, drive gross revenue or harvest the business? The means of achieving these goals can be dramatically different. The first step in aligning strategy is to find common ground on goals. If no common ground exists on what you are both trying to achieve (goal), then how you’re going to get there (strategy) will never be aligned.

2. Strategy. Strategy alignment can often fail due quite simply to a misunderstanding of what strategy is in the first place. At your next staff meeting, ask each person to write down their definition of strategy on a 3″ x 5″ note card, collect them and read the cards aloud. How many were the same? There is very rarely a universal definition of strategy and the other key planning terms. Provide all employees with a common language for strategy and a common set of tools to develop, communicate and execute it. Using a framework such as G.O.S.T. (goal, objective, strategy, tactics) can be an effective way of enhancing strategy alignment.

3. Dialogue. In many organizations, strategy is an annual event. The annual event consists of lots of research, didactic presentations and gigantic PowerPoint decks. But, great leaders realize that strategy is only effective when resources are focused on a few initiatives to drive the most value for customers. The focus of resources is only realized through regular, productive conversations. These conversations harness people’s best thinking, generate strategic insights, and lead to aligned strategies.

Solid strategy development and alignment integrates people from different levels and functional areas. Even when building strategy for a functional area like marketing or human resources, it’s important to have a few people from other areas and levels provide input. This helps ensure you’re looking at the business from different frames of perspective and breaks up the homogenous groupthink that occurs from like-minded people. Investing time to develop, communicate and execute strategy without ensuring proper alignment is like throwing four bald tires on a Ferrari. It looks good, but at any moment, the wheels may come off.

Elevate - The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking– Rich Horwath is CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute and author of Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking. To sign-up to receive your free copy of his monthly newsletter, Strategic Thinker, visit

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