Reading Lafley and Martin’s Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works raised this question for me:  If so many people—and you all know them—claim to be trained in strategy, claim to be strategic thinkers, why aren’t more companies better at it?

Two things come to mind:

First is culture.  In this case, I mean an internal company culture that only thinks in terms of the individuals or individual business units.  I’ve got to make my numbers!  The fifth pillar of the P&G playbook is about systems, which speaks to some kind of holistic interconnectedness within the company.

Second, I wonder how much of this sorry state is due to a lack of a winning aspiration? As Lafley and Martin point out: “Aspirations are the guiding purpose of an enterprise.”  Merriam-Webster defines aspiration as “a strong desire to achieve something high or great.”  Think of it as ambition.  For example: How about “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” And the asterisk is explained as follows: “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” Sound familiar? It’s Nike’s.  Or Starbucks’: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

So don’t mistake “To be the number 1 blah blah blah. . .”  or “To be the go-to resource for zim zam zoom. . .” as aspirations.  There’s nothing aspirational or inspirational about that.

Sadly, too many companies only have goals and growth targets.  But consumers don’t care about your goals.  And, honestly, neither do your employees.  Again, look at Havas’s Meaningful Brands IndexLook at the data the Gerzema and D’Antonio found on their way to writing The Athena Doctrine.  We’re in an age of uncertainty.  People are desperate for meaning.  If your brand  can’t provide that meaning, they’ll find it—or create it—somewhere else.   And without an aspiration that’s understood internally, your employees won’t push themselves on the company’s behalf.

Maybe your company needs to be using words like “unleash”, “reframe”, “inspire”, “transform”, etc.

The question is this: What is your company’s guiding principle that rallies your employees and your consumers?  Figure that out, and you strategy will be much better for it.

The most important reason to define your company’s aspiration? That idea, that ambition, begins to define what success will look like.  In this regard, aspirations aren’t airy-fairy pronouncements.  Rather, as laid out in Playing To Win, they’re the starting point for effective strategy.

So, quick: What’s your company’s winning aspiration?

Posted by Rob Fields