Pillars provide strength and support for something. In the case of strategy formulation, strategic pillars hold up the vision. Remove a pillar, and the vision is in risk of collapse. (Strategic pillars are also called strategic planks.)
In an earlier post, I explained that a vision is something that can be verified: you can “see” its achievement. Pillars help people to confirm that the vision is not a flight of fancy.
When evaluating a document, look for the vision and strategic pillars. Use them to develop a logical case to guide implementation. If you can’t find them: Red Flag!
Here are some examples.
Example of strategic pillars: The Save-the-News Initiative at Google
I described a real world example of a strategic initiative in an earlier posting on How Google Will Save the News. The nearby graphic represents Google’s vision with its three strategic pillars of monetization (get people to pay for the news, or advertising, or some combination), engagement (better involve the reader example: display ads), and distribution (collect and disseminate information in the best way for the business model example: YouTube Direct).
Example of Strategic Pillars: Schibsted
Here is an example from Schibsted, a Scandinavian media company. Its vision is to
build platforms for further growth within different media channels to create the most attractive media group in Europe
Shibsted then connects its vision to its Two Strategic Pillars:
Our strategy to deliver on our vision is twofold: One is to build leading positions in print and online news in Norway, Sweden and international. The second is to become the leader in rapidly growing online marketplaces.
Example of Strategic Pillars: Boy Scouts of America
Another fairly good example is from the 2011-2015 strategic plan for the Boy Scouts of America (see page 2 their strategic plan for vision and page 3 for the strategic pillars). In my analysis, BSA recognizes that it needs to be relevant and adaptive. Its pillars include programming, technology, and branding.
A Tutorial on Strategic Pillars for Content Marketing
I would like to give a shout out to Chris Morris for his tutorial, How to Develop the Strategic Pillars to Hold Up Your Content Strategy. Increasingly organizations are creating strategic initiatives around content marketing to engage customers, with the idea that high-quality, relevant and valuable information creates attention and loyalty.
Step 4 of his approach that he terms “plotting and diagramming fun.” (The earlier steps involve understanding the organization’s vision and understanding customer needs). In his example, vision rests on the five pillars shown in the nearby graphic.
Put it in Pictures
Chris Morris points out that graphics of strategic pillars offer three benefits:
- They have more impact than prose or bullet points
- They’re easy to drop into presentations to stakeholders, decision-makers and team members
- They’re perfect “cube decoration” – objects that get looked at often and get internalized better
People Need to Believe that the Strategy is Real and Not a Passing Fancy
When Jack Welch became CEO of GE in the 1980s, he needed a concept that would have strategic meaning on what it was and was not. He devised what has come to be known as the three circle concept of GE strategy, illustrated in the nearby graphic. He backed up his ideas with action, for example divesting GE’s venerable-but-lagging Housewares Division.
- A final example is a large pet supplies retailer. Its vision is to grow the business and the pillars are delight the customer and operational excellence. It came up with a clever acronym of DOG (delight, operate, grow); making their mission as a pet supply retailer relevant to the decisions that employees make in support of the vision.
What are some other examples of Strategic Pillars? How can we know if we have the right pillars?
- Can You See Your Vision Statement? (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Interpreting Strategy Documents: A Key Skill for Implementation (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Pillars of Strategic Initiative Success (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)