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What’s Your Strategy – in 15 Words or Less Please!

Can you summarise your organisations strategy in 15 words or less? No? Then take some time out and do so. Fifteen words should be more than enough – if you need more, go back and refine it again! In a short piece by Alessandro Di Fiore in HBR, he asks his clients to summarise their strategy in less than 15 words. This statement must identify the target customer, the value proposition, and how the latter fits two requirements:

  • Focus: What you want to offer to the target customer and what you don’t;
  • Difference: Why your value proposition is divergent from competitive alternatives.

Sounds simple. But it’s more difficult than it seems, he claims. The 15-word constraint is a test that often reveals a profound lack of alignment among managers. In a 100-page strategy document you can state everything you want, which makes everyone in the organisation feel comfortable. The trouble is that managers then interpret the 100 pages according to their view and aspiration of the company’s strategy. The result: one planning document, many different strategies. It’s so true. Imaging you sit down in your business-class seat on the short-haul flight – and yes, it’s Richard Branson right next to you. He casually asks “So what is the strategy of your organisation”? You have approximately 15 words (and 5 seconds) to annunciate it. Get it right – you might get a $1m investment. Get it wrong? You will get a smile, a nod, and he will go back to reading the paper. Alexandro quotes the following sweet fable:  One day, an advertising executive and a colleague were having lunch in New York’s Central Park. On the way back, they saw a blind man begging for money. He had a cup for donations, and a sign that read: “I am blind”. Passers-by ignored him. The executive stopped and offered to alter the wording on his sign to increase the donations. He took out a marker pen and scribbled four words. Passers-by started stopping, and soon the cash poured in. What did he add? The sign now read: “It is spring and I am blind.” Think about it. Now go and formulate your strategy in 15 words – or less!

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