“Can you summarize your company’s strategy in 35 words or less? If so, would your colleagues put it the same way?”
That question was posed in an article in the April 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review and has subsequently been thrown around many a business school classroom and corporate boardroom — with good reason. If your strategy is too complex to articulate concisely, then your team won’t be able to implement it successfully.
If your strategy is too complex to articulate concisely, then your team won’t be able to implement it successfully. Tweet This Quote
A 35-word strategy? Sounds good, except that most of us aren’t predisposed to comprehend 35-word sentences. Even the UK Government prohibits sentences that are longer than 25 words in all public documents.
According to research by the American Press Institute, eight words or less is the ideal length of a sentence if you want 100 percent of your audience to understand it.
An eight-word strategy? Sounds impossible, except that you don’t really need everyone in your company to memorize and understand your strategy.
At ULTRA Testing, a company I co-founded in 2012 with Art Shectman, we defined our strategy in the following 25 words: “Provide highly flexible, high-quality software testing services to digital and full-service agencies through exceptional onshore teams that include individuals on the Autism Spectrum.”
The next competitive or technological threat is almost guaranteed to emerge overnight from outside your industry. Tweet This Quote
While everyone in the company is familiar with this long and awkward sentence, we don’t expect everyone to remember those exact words.
More importantly, we described ULTRA’s mission in the following eight words: “To prove that neurodiversity is a competitive advantage.” Those eight words are sacred to everyone on the team. For the first few years of our existence, we also defined a single corporate goal described in another eight words: “Become the default QA (quality assurance) partner for advertising agencies.”
Today, ULTRA has almost 50 team members, 75 percent of whom are on the Autism Spectrum and 100 percent of whom believe our differences make us better. We’ve tripled annual revenues and achieved profitability, maintained a Net Promoter Score of 100 percent among customers, and consistently outperformed the competition. ULTRA now counts many of the world’s top digital and full-service advertising agencies as clients (e.g. Arnold, Droga5, Tribal, Razorfish), with an increasing number of clients committing to partner exclusively with us for all of their QA needs. We have firmly established ourselves as one of the leading QA providers for advertising agencies in the U.S., and we are well on our way to proving that neurodiversity is a competitive advantage.
What you need is a team grounded in your mission, not one constrained by an overly specific strategy. Tweet This Quote
To get here, we had to redesign every aspect of a traditional business, from a data-driven recruiting process that doesn’t rely on resumes or interviews, to a radically transparent approach to management that promotes open feedback among all team members, even those who may not be good communicators. We’ve succeeded not because of a brilliant strategy my co-founder or I developed, but rather because of an endless stream of insights and innovations that have come from all levels of the organization. We got here because individual team members shared an intimate understanding of our mission and our overarching corporate goal during our early years.
Of course, every company should have an articulated strategy, and of course it should be shared with everyone in the organization. But unlike in 2008 when that Harvard Business Review article was written, today’s environment is one where the next competitive or technological threat is almost guaranteed to emerge overnight from outside your industry.
Make sure everyone in your company knows your most important words by heart. Tweet This Quote
What you need is not a team that is constrained by an overly specific strategy, but rather a team that is grounded in your mission and free to make the right choices as they respond to a rapidly changing market.
So, before you spend a lot of time developing and sharing the next iteration of your strategy, start by making sure everyone in your company knows your most important words by heart — the words that describe your mission and those that describe your primary corporate goal. Ideally, this is described in eight words or less.