What is your Strategy in One Sentence?

by Dr. Donald N. Sweet

When we ask that question we get several different responses.  Sometimes it’s the deer in the headlights look.  “Our strategy said in one sentence?”  Other times the CEO will launch into a rather long, convoluted sentence.  When our follow up question is, “Will your management team say the same thing?”  The responses differ from the deer above, to “I hope so” to “I don’t know”.

We have been accused of using that as a trick question.  Is it really?  What happens when the entire management team can express their strategy in a single sentence?  Please spend a moment to ponder that before reading on.

When your entire team can express the company strategy succinctly, they better understand that guiding light.  Many of you will remember GE’s strategy under Jack Welch.  “We will be number one or number two in the markets we serve.”  How powerful that was.  Every executive, every employee knew if they weren’t one or two they really needed to get bigger or they would probably be spun off or tossed out.

Southwest Air took it a step further to a one phrase strategy, “Wheels Up”.  Southwest realized they only made money when the planes were in the air taking people to their destinations.  Everything Southwest did was aimed at getting “wheels up”.  They moved people in and out of the plane quickly.  They didn’t have meals to put on the plane or clean up as a result upon landing.

Furthermore they standardized on one type of plane in their fleet, the Boeing 737.  That allowed spare parts to be interchangeable.  Mechanics were all trained to work on the same plane.  They got really good at understanding their equipment.  In a pinch they could move parts and mechanics from one airport to another easily.  It was the same situation with pilots.   The flexibility and concentrated expertise they gained was enormous.

Strategy should inform all our decisions.  “Wheels Up” clearly did that for Southwest.  How many of us when faced with day to day decisions can look to our strategy for guidance?  How powerful would it be if we could?  We’re not talking about just the management team either.  Everyone at Southwest could see why many decisions were made as they furthered the company strategy.

We at Vital Growth are passionate about total company alignment.  When your entire team, from CEO to sweeper is pulling in the same direction, it’s powerful.  That is enhanced when the entire team understands the company’s strategy.  Keep it simple, straightforward, and meaningful.  What is your company strategy in a sentence?