Defining your strategic intent with “The Art of Action”

The mind map and video show you a simple and effective way of defining your strategic intent.

The “Art of Action” by Stephen Bungay stresses the importance of making your strategic intent clear and simple. Intent is what you want to achieve and the reasons why. You should limit you strategic intent to defining and communicating your intent.  Then allow allow each level to define the intent of the next level up and “back brief”. Set the boundaries that guide the level below you. This cascading intent is an essential part of Bungay’s “directed opportunism”. Directed Opportunism

The Mindshop “Now-Where-How” process stresses the importance of starting with defining where you are NOW, before deciding WHERE you will be in the future. The third step is to define HOW you will get there.

Combining this with the “Art of Action” provides a very effective way to define your intent.  Follow the steps shown in the mind map below. The critical step is to define the single major objective you want to achieve.

Strategic Intent Mind Map Process

  1. Where are we now? What are main internal factors that are relevant to the results we want to achieve?
  2. What is the situation now? What are the main external factors that could have an impact on our plans? These could come from a SWOT Analysis.
  3. WHERE do we want to get to? List the main objectives including the timing where relevant. You are likely to have several items listed.  Now comes the hard part.
  4. WHAT is the single major objective to be achieved? You can only have ONE major objective! Some of the WHERE items are really Constraints. So if you “WHERE” includes both a sales and a profit target, you need to decide which one is most important and therefore the main objective.  If sales is your main objective, your profit target becomes a constraint. ‘We want to increase sales by 30% in 12 months, but our gross profit must be at least 20%.” Others may be better expressed as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). Lastly, some of them may belong to lower level. They are a means to an end, not the end itself.
  5. WHY are we doing this?  It is very important to be clear about the “WHY” as this helps both understanding of the intent and motivation.  “We know both what we are doing and what the higher intent is.”
  6. How will you measure success?  What KPI’s do we really need?  Remember that KPI’s should always be a means to an end and not the end itself. As a rule of thumb, the fewer the better, but do distinguish between lead KPI’s, such as prospects, and lag KPI’s such as profit.
  7. What are the boundaries: the constraints and the freedoms?
    1. Some of the WHERE items are really constraints, such as gross margin or profit. Time and budget also belong here. What other constraints might be relevant?
    2. How much freedom should you give? Don’t be too restrictive otherwise you will stifle initiative!

Strategic Intent Art of Action

Strategic Intent Video

This four-minute video guides you through the process of defining your Strategic Intent.

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Start using the Strategic Intent for your project or your team.To quote Stephen Bungay “even small steps can have a big impact”. Start with a small project and move to larger and more complex projects as you become familiar with the process. The rest of the organization will follow your example.

Do share this blog post with anyone you know who is struggling to define their strategic intent.

Simon Fawkes
Accredited Mindshop Facilitator
Business to Markets Ltd

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