Corporate strategy answers the most fundamental questions any organization has to consider. It is the organization’s north star that guides the direction of the organization. Without a coherent and cohesive strategy, an organization will likely get distracted by its many opportunities and never gain the benefits of strong, focused attention in key strategic areas. Some of the key questions that strategy answers include:
• What are the organization’s vision, mission, and values?
• In which markets should it compete?
• How should it compete in these markets?
• What is the organization’s competitive advantage?
When answering the preceding questions, corporate strategists are really trying to figure out how the organization should position itself in the marketplace. There are many forces the organization can directly control (such as vision, mission, values), but there are significant competitive forces that the organization cannot directly control; thus, leadership must analyze and choose the right industry and approach to entering that industry in order for the organization to remain financially viable.
It is the role of project and program managers to help an organization bring life to projects that support strategy. Project and program managers are executioners of work that delivers strategic value to the organization. When the project management function in an organization increases its own maturity to the point it can help the organization prioritize its portfolio of work, it is filling a key strategic function. Understanding corporate strategy fundamentals will help you improve the project and program management function in your organization.
The most critical role of corporate strategy is to set the overall direction the organization should pursue. This is done by setting the vision, mission, and values for the organization. The corporate strategy team should be active in managing corporate direction as well as investment of the organization’s limited resources. It is important to note that the vision, mission, and values are typically stable over months and years, whereas priorities can change rapidly as circumstances shift.
It is almost cliché today to talk about an organization’s vision and mission—but these two statements are among the most important strategic documents in the entire organization.
When we couple the vision and mission with a set of strong values, the company has a foundation for building a strong organizational culture—and strong culture can be a real strategic advantage.
An organization’s vision statement should present an aspirational future state from which employees and shareholders can get inspiration. It gives the organization direction and sets broad goals for the organization to reach. Vision statements may sound like management gibberish, but if they are done with sincerity, they signal to all what top leadership hopes to accomplish. It should be a statement that employees rally around.
A mission statement varies from a vision statement, in that there is more immediacy and direction for the work the organization will be doing and for whom. Some mission statements declare the market or customer they are targeting, some talk about the product they make or the service they provide. Some talk more about how they will get there. A mission statement should provide direction for the organization and allow employees and managers to focus attention on the right targets. Like vision statements, they should be succinct.
The values an organization chooses to espouse can be very telling about the way they operate. Values are guardrails for how an organization operates. When taken seriously, they are one of the most important elements to guide employee and management behavior. Typically, organizations will adopt multiple values. They are sometimes called core values, and they are often shared publicly as a powerful marketing device.
The trick with values, as with vision and mission statements, is how sincerely the organization adopts them. I have been in organizations where these statements are merely corporate window dressing and are, thus, useless. I have also been in organizations where values are respected and obsessively followed. A company that lives its values can build a very strong company culture. A strong culture helps its workers to grow from transactional employees that are doing it for the paycheck, to invested employees who are empowered by the vision, mission, and values.
Another major function of corporate strategy is to prioritize where the organization will focus its resources. Will the organization focus on expanding its current offering, or start a new product line? Will it grow its domestic base or open international offices? Will it spend more on product development or customer support? As stated earlier, unlike the vision, mission, and value statements, priorities change frequently with market dynamics.