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The who, what and why of strategy

15 September, 2016

. Accounting. beatonlive. Consulting engineering. Law. Management consulting. Other professional services. Strategy

Most leaders don’t have time for complex strategies.  So how can you reduce complexity to simplicity, or chaos to order in developing and presenting strategy?  Here’s how – focus on the who, what and why.

In the 2011 movie Margin Call Jeremy Irons tells his nervous management team “…speak to me as you might to a young child or a Golden Retriever. It wasn’t brains that got me here I can assure you.”  Leaders of substance have one overarching ability, and that is judgement. For this reason we focus on the who, what and why.

Who, What, Why

So how can you keep strategy simple?  The first step is to answer these three questions:

  • WHO will you serve?
  • WHAT will you sell them?
  • WHY will they prefer you?

In answering these three questions, also have clarity on these two positions:

  • What are you known for? (i.e. how do your clients see you?)
  • What do you stand for? (i.e. how do your employees see you?)

This is not to say that the research behind your strategy will not be comprehensive, but its presentation must have absolute clarity and simplicity, the WHO, WHAT and WHY should cover:

  • WHO – divide into existing and new clients;
  • WHAT – divide into exiting and new service offerings;
  • WHY – how you will compete, how you will differentiate and how you will be valued by clients.


Tell a story

One of the best ways to present strategy is to tell it as a story. As Rudyard Kipling said “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten”. So it goes with strategy development for professional services firms, where those responsible for strategy implementation also have a distracting day job.

One visual that we have found simple and highly effective in the process of strategy development and presentation is this one, the client centric strategy route map:


This simple dissection of the market and your service offerings provides a platform to corral the myriads of strategies that will infest all but the specialist and boutique firms. It is an effective way to categorise strategic purpose.  It is a highly effective way to determine the WHO, WHAT and WHY.

A Strategy Playbook for professional services firms

Further background on this approach to developing strategy can be found in the first evidenced-based guide to developing strategy for professional services firms – A Strategy Playbook for professional services firms. Follow this link to download the playbook now.


This post was written by Warren Riddell of beaton. Warren’s details can be found at LinkedIn.


Image courtesy of IMDb 

One Response to The who, what and why of strategy

Pamela DeNeuve says: 12 October, 2016 at 3:07 am

The opening statement that most leaders do not have time for complex strategies is something that everyone should take note of. The message of who, what and why distills the information in a way that makes it easy to strategize.

Telling a story to teach is one of the oldest and most effective ways to teach. The visual presented, strategy route map is an excellent tool. Thanks for a great article with very clear subject matter and instructions.


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