Keep it Simple, Strategist: Why simplicity is the soul of strategic success

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The Allied effort in World War II was a gigantic and complex undertaking. There were twenty-six allies, each with its own government and armed forces. Every amphibious landing or troop movement or supply mission would be “the biggest ever” until the next one came along.

Even so, the Allied strategy in World War II was simple: “Work together to defeat the Axis Powers, securing victory in Europe first.” Because it was simple, it was easy for everyone to align their actions with it.  Jack Welch, who ought to know something about strategy and alignment, had a similar approach. Here’s his take on strategy.

“In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

It’s hard to explain a three-volume, number-filled, strategic plan to mid-level managers and people on the front lines. If you can’t explain it, they can’t align their actions with it, either. Simple strategies are easier to explain and easier to implement.

Try putting your strategy into a slogan or a sentence or a couple of sentences that everyone can understand and use as a guide to action. Here are some examples. .

“Southwest is the low fare airline.”

“Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

“Publix, where shopping is a pleasure.”

“Everyday low prices”

The big payoff from simplicity is that your people understand your strategy without a lot of rollout. Alignment isn’t a major production, people can use your simple statement as a guide. You won’t need professionally-designed PowerPoint slides. Instead of spending money on a year-long program cascading the new strategy through the company, you can get right to work.

The above is adapted from Ruthless Focus which  I coauthored with Tom Hall.


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