Feb 7, 2012

The SAFE Strategy

SAFE is not a model on how to build a strategy, but rather a model on the minimum requirements about implementing your actual objectives. I constructed the SAFE model after a practical study on what is preventing organisations in achieving their goals.

When a strategy does not produce results, many use to say that the strategy is good but people don't apply it. I heard millions of excuses like that. My assumption is that a strategy that doesn't work is a bad strategy. So, let's see the characteristics of a bad strategy and then define the SAFE strategy.

There are four main reasons strategies don't work:

1. The employees know nothing about the existence of a strategy. If they know there is a strategy, they don't know what it is about. That is a common problem in large organisations. When they know what the strategy is about, sure enough they don't care.
2. Very often strategies are ambiguous. They lack precision and consistency. Sometimes strategies focus more on what to avoid rather than what to achieve.

3. A strategic document is many times understood as a set of rules or regulations. People feel obliged to stick with it regardless of the bad outcomes.

4. When people know about the strategy, understand it and care about it, most of the times they don't know what to do about it.

Now, let's go with the SAFE Strategy model, which is just the inverse of that matrix of problems. A strategy is SAFE when it is SHARED, ACCURATE, FLEXIBLE and EXECUTABLE.

Shared- Any strategic documents must reach all the people from all the levels of the organisation. The best way to share a strategy is in a large meeting or more smaller meetings to involve everyone. E-mailing the document is not a good idea unless a feed-back is required.

Accurate- Every single objective must be accompanied by its specific indicators. The SMART model is a simple and good way for achieving accuracy. Don't forget nevertheless that SMART does not work on negative goals. Always formulate positive objectives.

Flexible- Strategies are meant to encourage change, not to stop it. You can recognize at a glance a bad strategy when it does not contain alternatives or, in other words, the means of its own improvement and adaptation.

Executable- A strategy that is not split in concrete tasks at all levels of the organisation is a waste of good paper. A strategic document cannot contain specific actions for everyone, but everyone have to develop specific actions from it. Filling in the execution gap is maybe the most difficult and challenging step, but who said strategic management is easy?

Good luck and stay SAFE!
 Mihai Cuza, 2008