Start your strategy with a question.

Recently, in an informal setting, someone asked me how they should go about developing a growth strategy for their organization. Normally I would've told them it was too big of a question to answer over lunch. But to humor them, I kept listening as they filled me in on the details. The wheels started turning, then it suddenly occurred to me there might an easier way to approach the question: start with another question "how would we scale this?"

(By the way, just so that we're clear, I mean “scale” to increase or grow the capacity an operation or function.)

Now why would you start a business strategy with a question that normally comes much later? Here’s why. Asking the “scaling” question forces us, or at least makes it easier for us, to think through all the possible components that go into a larger strategy without the overwhelming question of how to develop a strategy from scratch. In other words, it’s easier to answer the more practical question of “how do we scale this” than grappling with the more abstract one of starting at ground zero. The “scaling” question breaks it down for us, makes it more bite-sized, but with the same results in the end. That's the beauty of it.

The organization that prompted the original question is an American-headed group that takes in and cares for street kids in a middle eastern country. They are a tiny grassroots organization that wants to have a greater impact, but facing overwhelming odds of so many children in need but lacking the resources and exposure to the large donor base or supportive constituency that other larger organizations enjoy. What do they do? Ask the “scaling” question.

The first part of the scaling question is "why?" In other words, do you really want to grow or change? Of course this raises more complicated issues like purpose, mission, vision, etc., but still vital to answer before thinking about growth. But lets just say, for the sake of argument, that they want to grow and are willing to commit to exploring what that will take.

So, going back to our analogy, in no particular order, this organization must also consider staffing, funding, media exposure, local legal issues, governmental compliance, fundraising, marketing, branding, community relations, and administration (the stuff of a dozen blog articles). Yes, it is true that developing a "business strategy" might get you to all the same issues, and even though it just might be mind trick or semantics, I believe that the scaling question will get you there faster.

By the way, if you would like some help in thinking through this question for your organization give us a shout.

Author: Brad

Tags: strategy, scaling

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