Don't Start With Goals

Putting goals before strategy will bring you problems.

Many consultants adopt the classic definition of strategy as a "plan of action to achieve a set of goals".

I'm one of them - it's a simple, pragmatic, and useful way to look at strategy. We don't need to sound smart and use jargon when talking about it. Clients seek and enjoy clarity.

But there's a hidden danger here: Believing that strategy starts with a goal. When we look at consultancies that have implemented winning strategies, that’s not how it typically happens. Here's an example.

One of my previous clients is an organization design consultancy specialized in working with design agencies. The partners' vision was to become the go-to consultancy for highly innovative agencies that want to "stay ahead of the curve".

Their initial strategy was to target the leadership teams of the biggest agencies in Europe. We started building relationships with key decision-makers and developing sophisticated offerings. However, after a few months into this strategy, we realized that while the large agencies were willing to invest in organization design, they were not as open to taking risks and trying new approaches.

At that moment, a decision needed to be made: Sacrifice the vision to reach the goal, or the goal for the vision?

Ultimately partners decided to shift our strategy to target medium-sized agencies instead. We focused on creating more flexible and customizable offerings. This is proving to be a successful strategy, as they are growing profitably while building a brand and reputation of highly innovative in their space.

That's how the best strategies come up: You start with a vision or big idea, build a strategy that helps you move closer to that idea, and only then you set specific goals to execute against.

Most consultancies do the opposite. They set arbitrary goals, and then create a plan of action to make them happen. The problem is that not only are those goals arbitrary (even if you're benchmarking) but they also limit the possibilities and new ideas to make your big vision happen.

Goals can only tell you too much, and might steer your strategy in the wrong direction. Why are you working on them in the first place? Start with your vision.

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