Home

Manifesto on strategic clarity

Most of my time is spent helping leaders of non-profit organizations and social enterprises to cultivate strategic clarity.

I want them to think clearly about their organizations. I want them to make sensible decisions and act swiftly upon them.

But I’ve noticed how easily we get lost in the activities, documents and tools of strategy. These can become an end in themselves.

I recommend we shift our attention to what we’re trying to achieve: clarity of thinking and good decision-making. Then we become open to possibilities we never considered before. Sometimes, all we need is a good night’s sleep.

This article explores some creative ideas for how we can improve our strategic clarity.

Estimating probabilities is key to strategy

Leaders must be good at taking bets against the future. They must be able to choose a course of action that is most likely to advance their organization in an uncertain world. Competent leaders make the right bets most of the time; bad leaders don’t.

However, many of the leaders I help are overwhelmed by the strategic choices facing their non-profit organization or social enterprise. 

They have realized that they have limited resources such as time, attention, money and people. They recognize that they cannot pursue all opportunities. Neither can they protect against all threats and risks, with equal enthusiasm, despite wanting to do so. They have learned that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. They have begun to accept their limitations as leaders.

Leaders must learn how to embrace the ‘agony of choice’. They must become skilled at estimating probabilities. They must learn to act swiftly with imperfect information.

“The Pumpkin Plan”: a focused strategy for growing organizations

Recently I’ve been fascinated by the Pumpkin Plan – a business strategy described in the book “The Pumpkin Plan” by Mike Michalowicz. I found the book inspiring and accessible. It is currently my favourite book in this genre.

The Pumpkin Plan uses the example of farmers who grow gargantuan pumpkins that weigh over 500kg.

It is a focused approach to finding your ideal customer (or beneficiary), serving them with your unique ability, and designing systems for your enterprise to run more efficiently.

The Pumpkin Plan resonates with my philosophy of minimalism and simplicity because it requires a focused approach and the reduction of strategic clutter.

The Pumpkin Plan was designed for entrepreneurs who wish to set-up businesses that can be sold, or run without their constant involvement. It is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. However, I believe that many of its insights can still apply to social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa.

Pitch deck for customers and donors

Twice in the past week I was asked to suggest the slides to include in a “pitch deck” – a handful of slides that are used to “pitch” an organization, its programmes or products. Pitch decks tend to be fairly standardized, have a high level of design work, and make selective use of text.

I recommend 10 slides @ 2 minutes to discuss = 20 minute presentation. Here are the slides that I would include for a presentation to a customer or donor. Please adapt as necessary.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start for inspiring my thinking on this topic many years ago.

Unique opportunities for social enterprises with a for-profit legal form

A social entrepreneur recently called me for some advice.

He had started a “social enterprise” with a for-profit legal form – a private company (“PTY”).

He had managed to secure the South African licence to sell a very promising product that serves the people at the “bottom-of-the-pyramid”.

He then approached some local foundations and corporate social investment (CSI) departments for funding. They said that he had to first create a non-profit company (NPC) and then use this vehicle to submit a funding proposal. In other words, these donors were suggesting that he create a hybrid social enterprise.

We had a short and productive discussion about where the best opportunities for his business were to be found. I explained that creating a hybrid model in this instance is most probably a bad idea.

Since I have this type of conversation quite regularly with social entrepreneurs, I decided to share and elaborate upon the six opportunities we discussed.

Work on a few strategic shifts at a time

My colleagues and I recently responded to a request-for-proposals to develop a batch of complex strategies for a non-profit organization.

While developing a proposal, we wondered how this organization would able to implement all these strategies at once, or whether a more focused approach might be more appropriate. We ended up proposing an initial strategic assessment that would shape the resulting strategy work.

This short article revisits the purpose of strategy and reminds us how organizations tend to have limited resources (e.g. time, money, people, mental and emotional space) that can be deployed to bring about strategic change.

Leading “start-ups” versus established organizations

Many social entrepreneurs set up organizations in order to change the world. Those working on a “start-up” enterprise need to think differently about their organizations from those who run established or mature organizations.

While start-ups require entrepreneurs to exist in a state of high-energy hustle, established organizations require leaders who are good at building systems and achieving results through others.

Treating an established organization like a start-up can do more harm than good! It may constrain an organization’s evolution by locking it into a developmental stage. Conversely, handling a start-up (with its limited resources and unrefined approach) in the same way that you would treat an established organization would make it difficult to get it off the ground.

The wisdom is knowing when your organization has become established (it normally takes around 5 years) and then shifting your thinking and behaviour accordingly.

This article explores how social entrepreneurs and leaders should see and treat their organizations, depending on whether they are busy setting it up or whether it is already established.

Social enterprise glossary

I’ve designed this glossary to help social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa think clearly about their strategies and business models.

Strategic clarity involves clear thinking, and clear thinking requires clarity of language. Many of us also rely too much on jargon, which clutters our minds and encourages lazy and fuzzy thinking.

Here is some of the terminology that I regularly use in my consulting practice and lectures, and my short descriptions of what each term means in simple English.

How to stay happy, sane and productive while working in the business of changing the world

I gave this presentation to social entrepreneurs at The Mensch Network in Cape Town on 27 February 2019. It was a very engaging discussion. I learned as much from the participants as they did from me.

This presentation contains 10 pieces of Unconventional Advice that have served me well in my career, and which have helped to accelerate my progress. The origin of this presentation was a letter that a young social entrepreneur had written to me about her anxiety about not being able to “plot a clear path into the future”. This presentation explores how careers have changed and how adopting this advice will put you in good stead for the future.

Thoughts on the Social Economy Strategy in South Africa

The South African government is busy developing a strategy to help cultivate the social economy in the country.

I’ve been fortunate to contribute to the strategic process – I’ve been interviewed several times and shared some written insights with the project team.

At the time of writing this article (February 2019), the government has commissioned a Green Paper on the Social Economy – a draft set of policy proposals for discussion. Green Papers tend to be followed by White Papers or official policy documents.

Since this strategy has been on my mind recently, I took a moment to record my thoughts and share them online and with the policy team. I’m also curious about what form you think the Social Economy Strategy should take.

View older writings

In pursuit of strategic clarity

Back to top of page ↑