I am a technology strategist for Appirio. When I’m introduced to a client (or to anyone), the title is usually accompanied with a raised eyebrow or an uncertain, glazed look. Whether you are in technology or not, strategy is usually the twelve-ton elephant in the room that is impossible to wrangle, and often misunderstood. That’s because strategy is the path someone takes toward a solution to a problem that is difficult to define. These problems are enterprise-grade, million dollar challenges that are intangible and hard to measure. Solving them can be the difference between a company sustaining or thriving — or going belly-up.
This is why strategy is something that organizational leaders know they need to focus on, but the tactical day-to-day of running their business always seems to prioritize their time. Who can make time for tomorrow’s needs when their team’s attention is required on that critical escalation, now? Who has the time to rationalize an 18-month investment plan? Or how to anticipate the negative impacts of market trends? Or how to maximize on their technology investment, or make new investments wisely to enable their workforce to be more efficient? Why should they care about any of this when their platform is “good enough” for now?
What does a strategist really do?
Are they these big-brained problem solvers with years of industry experience and a magic wand to shrink that unwranglable, misunderstood twelve-ton elephant you’ve been ignoring to conveniently fit into your pocket? Perhaps. But when people ask me what a strategist does, I tell them: “We sell ideas.” If a strategy is the path someone takes toward a solution to a problem that is difficult to define, a strategist is the pathfinder. And we trailblaze by selling ideas.
Steve Jobs revolutionized computing with the invention of the personal computer. His strategy wasn’t just the collaboration with his cohorts to birth this invention. It was convincing the world it couldn’t live without something that they didn’t even know existed until that moment. Or consider Jordan Belfort, famously played by Leonardo Dicaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. His greatest strategy was his salesmanship, which was masterfully represented by his iconic line: “Sell me this pen.” The pen isn’t sold by extolling the pen’s virtues. The pen is sold by showing a client the need to write something, and therefore the need to own a pen.
These scenarios introduce ideas that didn’t yet exist to their intended audiences. Although these ideas of a new way are initially abstract and undefined, once they’re accepted, made concrete, and expanded upon, they can fuel instrumental transformation. So how does a strategist show their clients this new way? How do they sell the idea of something that does not yet exist to their clients? By asking three questions:
1. What is the need? We define the client’s needs by assessing blind spots. These are gaps in how their customers and workers are supported. Appirio Strategists can use several frameworks — such as the Virtuous Cycle or Actionable Strategy Capability Domains — as tools to identify blind spots. We then focus on reactive and proactive investments. Reactive investments should be made if a customer or worker capability is lagging based on organizational demands. Proactive investments should be considered when anticipating a future need.
2. Should we act? The answer is typically financially driven, and by investing in a customer or worker capability, will lead to an increase in revenue or a decrease in operational spending. These insights are baked into our Actionable Strategy offerings, and also generated by extended business cases.
3. How do we act? A complete assessment of a customer’s and worker’s experiences is required to answer this question. These insights are developed into recommendations that are then defined into a roadmap. Developing this is as much of an art as it is a science, and is the core mechanics of Appirio’s Virtuous Cycle Diagnostic, and Phase 0 offerings.
The methodology behind these three questions are a lot more detailed, and the defining principles for the various frameworks can drive transformative discussions. Although the idea of a new way doesn’t feel real at first, it doesn’t make its potential value any less real. And that is what a technology strategist is and what they can do for you. Now that you know, hopefully the next time you meet one they aren’t met with an arched eyebrow or a glazed look. (And if you ask nicely, I’m sure they’ll gladly help wrangle that twelve-ton elephant in the room.)
Want to learn more about actionable strategy and the Virtuous Cycle methodology? Check out our ebook.