What’s strategy?

Here’s one answer and possibly the shortest one you’ll get: Figuring out what to say No to.

These days, the calls to you to say Yes are strong indeed. It’s like the Dark Side in Star Wars, always tempting you. But as a senior leader, one of your jobs is to help your organization and the people in it understand the No’s so you can truly commit to the Yes’s. To be able to do that, it’s useful to have a lens through which you can understand and review what your choices are.

A simple model

There are just three types of work that you and your organization can do.

Bad Work. Bad Work is the bureaucratic busywork, the time-sucking, mind-numbing, jaw-slacking work that keeps creeping up like weeds through the pavement. Every company has Bad Work. One UK company – Richer Sounds – went as far as to form a Cut the Crap Committee whose remit was to track down and eliminate Bad Work.

Good Work. Good Work is the productive, efficient and focused work that gets things done. It’s crucial to your success as delivering Good Work well is what drives your revenue month by month, quarter by quarter. But it’s a double-eded sword. Because these days, most of us our slowly drowning in Good Work. Too many meetings, too many emails, too many projects. We spend our days like Sysiphus pushing the Good Work rock up the mountain but never quite getting it under control. The price we pay? A lack of time and focus to do our Great Work.

Great Work. Great Work is the work that has impact, that makes a difference, that has meaning. It’s the work that engages and inspires those in your organization, and it’s the work that is the basis for longer-term success. This is where innovation and “blue ocean strategy” and differentiation lie.

Three crucial decisions

There isn’t any magic formula – say a 26% Great Work: 74% Good Work ratio – that you’re striving for. The question you need to be asking yourself is: What’s the right combination of Good Work and Great Work for our organization at the moment – and how do we deliver that? It differs from organization to organization. It even differs within an organization from year to year, as your priorities change and your company grows.

Here are three decisions you need to master and make.

1. What projects will you kill?

If you had to eliminate 20% of the projects your organization is currently working on, what would go? With time and resources scarce, it’s a fair bet that you’re over-committed, that you’ve had scope-creep and that the edges are fuzzy. Now’s the time to step back and prune.

2. What projects will you commit to?

Or perhaps a better way of asking this is, if you were fully committed to this project, what would that look like? What would be different in terms of time, resources and energy devoted to the project? What would be different in terms of how success was envisioned?

3. How can we stop the overwhelm?

The first two decisions are strategic ones, a matter of focus and choice. But deciding something is pointless if everyone’s too busy to actually do what matters. What needs to change in terms of how people work to help manage the overwhelm and stop the busywork? As well as you reducing the number of projects, you might consider ways to manage the amount of communications people have to deal with (somehow, rather than working our way out of the mail-room we’ve worked our way back into it) and the quality of the meetings you hold – two vampiric features of work in most organizations today.