In the business world, there are two popular ways I’ve often talked about how we develop and communicate strategy: the waterfall method and the fountain method. In theory, they both make sense, but I’d argue one of those methods, over time, will deliver better and more relevant results than the other.  

Developing Business Strategy

In order to succeed as a business, it is important to have a winning strategy in place. This involves taking a step-by-step, holistic approach to growth and developing a clear plan that outlines your business goals, what you need to do to achieve them, and how you will know when you’ve succeeded. In addition to these key considerations, your strategy should be focused on delivering your organizational vision and values, aka Organizational Purpose.  

There are a variety of factors to consider when creating your business strategy, including your target market, your competitive landscape, your competitive advantage or Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and your marketing and sales plans. But, one of the often missed steps of developing a winning strategy is ensuring that you are listening to, engaging and reflecting on what your people are seeing and feeling on the frontlines to inform your strategy development and the iterations to come.  Why is this?  Well, I believe it is often because you’ve taken a waterfall approach rather than a fountain approach to developing your business strategy.  

The Waterfall Method

The waterfall method is a linear, step-by-step approach to strategy development. A Waterfall only flows in one direction! It starts at the top and waterfalls into the organization.  The first step is to identify the business’s strategy and objectives, then develop a plan to achieve them. Next, you break down the steps required to execute the plan and create timelines and budgets for each step. Finally, you put in place controls to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments. 

The waterfall method can feel very orderly and deliver a systematic way to develop a strategy, which can be reassuring to managers who like things to be neat and tidy. Initially, it sounds great because it represents the strategy flowing down through the organization.  However, the waterfall method can also be inflexible and bureaucratic because as I stated before, it flows in only one direction. If something unexpected happens, it can be difficult to make changes to the plan. And because the process is so linear, it can be difficult to adapt to changes in the business environment. When you finally pause and look up, many realize that they have flowed down the river and no longer can see, feel or remember the waterfall it came from.  

The Fountain Method

The fountain method is more fluid and adaptable than the waterfall method. It starts with a broad outline of the strategy, then allows managers to adapt and refine it as they learn more about the business and the environment. It allows businesses to respond quickly to changes in the market, and to make adjustments to the strategy as they go to stay relevant.  Although the water (your strategy) flows out from the top, it originates from within and also flows down through the fountain and eventually makes its way back to the top again. There is a continuous loop which makes way for continuous improvement and the necessary reflection to ensure relevance for your organization within the strategies you deploy.  

This method engages everyone, at all levels within the organization, to be part of achieving your purpose, realizing your goals and ensuring your relevance as you work together.  It’s been said that Organizations that regularly allow staff to author, contribute and monitor the business vision (Fountain Method) have 60% less employee turnover than those that plan and strategize from the top down (Waterfall Method).  That means 60% more effort is given to achieving your Organizational Purpose! That’s big, right?  

 Communicating business strategy 

Strategy communication is the process of sharing a company’s strategic plan with employees and other key stakeholders. The goal of strategy communication is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands how their role contributes to the success of the organization. Employees need to feel like they are a part of something larger and that their individual contributions are valued.   

A successful strategy communication plan will ensure that everyone in the organization is on the same page and working towards the same goals but also ensures that there is a feedback loop that is active. As I am sure you are starting to see, the fountain method of strategy is a giant step in the right direction both from a development and communication standpoint. 

There are a variety of methods that can be used to communicate strategy, depending on the audience and the type of information being shared. The most common methods include presentations, reports, emails, and face-to-face meetings.

When creating a strategy communication plan, it’s important to keep in mind the different needs and preferences of your audience. It’s also important to be aware of the tone of your communication. Your strategy should be presented in a way that is positive, optimistic, and inspires confidence. If you want your employees to feel like they are a part of something larger and that their individual contributions are valued, engaging them in your strategic process is important. 

How do you do it well?  

It takes intentional effort to build a fountain approach to your business strategy.  It means taking the time to listen and learn from your business…your people, your customers, your market and industry.  You need to ensure you get down to the root cause of what is getting in your way and holding you back.  One framework we leverage with businesses that are in growth mode is the Stages of Growth. Considering the challenges of growing a company, business leaders don’t need theories or concepts about how to run a business. What they need is the unvarnished truth, specific methods and solutions that deliver results. Our solution zeros in on identifying your past, current and future stage of growth and how to adjust to the challenges of each stage. We work to identify hidden influences that are hindering or advancing your company’s performance. Additionally, we help you understand what unique leadership competencies are required for each stage of growth and how leadership style impacts a leader’s ability to connect to their employees. The outcome? A language of growth that engages your teams to tackle growth issues, identify critical growth transition zones and prepare for each one.You can learn more about it here on our website.  

Unlocking Outcomes, Stages of Growth

Many have struggled with successful business strategy development and communication.  In the end, I’d ask you to reflect on these thoughts.  Are you looking for Command and Control…a formal and military-like approach?  If so, a waterfall method to your business strategy development and communication may be right for you.  However, if you are looking for an engaged workforce that works hard to ensure your long term relevance, the fountain method is a better way to go.

If you are interested in learning more about a fountain approach to growth strategy in your business, reach out today.  We would love to help you unlock your desired outcomes today!