Defining a strategy sounds complicated? Not at all! We create strategies all the time, for example, investment strategies or nutrition strategies. Simply put, a strategy is a plan for behavior in order to achieve goals in a more or less distant future (for example, lose 10 kilos 😉). If this goal is very far in the future, you can also speak of a vision (“When I retire in 30 years, I want to be financially independent.”).
This explains the meaning of a strategy. Strategies are also very important in the language business because they help to drive the right (language) topics in the right direction in order to contribute best to a company’s success. However, a few more factors may have to be taken into account than with a simpler nutrition strategy.
One or none?
One thing up-front: There is not ONE and not necessarily the BEST strategy. Often, larger companies have already developed extensive material on high-level corporate strategy, i.e., vision, mission, values, etc. have been established on a broader level. You might ask: Why then define your own strategy at the department level at all? Simple answer: Because corporate strategies are usually too abstract for employees in their area of responsibility to align concrete actions with them. But such a corporate strategy is a good anchor point for creating your departmental strategy and aligning with it. Key questions here are: Does my strategy align with corporate goals and strategy? Is it a good fit?
Everything back to start
So how do you start a strategy project? First of all, you should think about who should participate in the strategy work and who is affected by it: who are the most important stakeholders? Here you must think about how the strategy work will be directed. Will the strategy be defined by management and then handed to the employees (top-down)? Or should management, employees, internal customers, and partners, such as purchasing, be involved in shaping the strategy from the beginning (bottom-up)? Spoiler alert: If the corporate culture allows, a transparent bottom-up strategy process with representatives of the relevant stakeholder groups is highly recommended. Why? This way, the change process required to successfully achieve strategic goals is already initiated in parallel.
Strategy is work
A word of advice: Strategy work is not something you just shake off your sleeve. It takes a bit of time to think about external and internal factors that influence a strategy and to form strategic goals from these. And a long-term goal or vision is not something you just ‘have’. But you shouldn’t get lost in ‘translation’ either. A strategy doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful or sensational; above all, it has to work. And a strategy works when all employees understand it as a clear framework for their job and are able to refer directly to strategic goals in their actions.
Example: If a language department’s strategy is to promote automation to handle translation volumes more efficiently, for example, then the decision to place machine translation at the center of translation efforts is logically justified because it aligns with that strategic goal. If, in addition, the company itself has a strategic goal of making all internal processes 20% more efficient in the course of two years, then the departmental goal is directly linked to the corporate goal and very much embedded in the company. Such arguments are invaluable in negotiations with management and other departments.
Actions speak louder than words
Last but not least, not having a strategy is unfortunate, because it means working in any (or several) directions without a goal. A strategy doesn’t have to be complicated, it can and should focus on the essential goals. If you create too many strategic goals, the department loses focus and people become unsatisfied because they can’t achieve all goals.
But you are not quite done, having strategic goals. You also have to cut them into smaller slices, because they have a long-term effect (2-4 years). You do this by deriving operational goals that have a short-term effect (month, quarter) and that ensure that the strategic goal is achieved in the end.
We like to do this process in an agile way and work with strategy maps and sprints. But you can also approach it in a very classic way or use a mixture of both. It depends a lot on the team and the corporate culture.
In the end, it is important that you and your people can work with the results. It’s also important that your strategy is understandable and comprehensible for everyone.
Then the strategy develops a strong ‘pull’, which propels people long – towards your vision!