What’s Your Strategy? Do You Keep It Top of Mind?

In endeavors from warfare to poker, from chess to football, from investing to water treatment, success goes first to the owner of a sound strategy

“If you are tired of hammering your head against the wall, if it feels like you never are good enough, or that you’re working way too hard, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you’ve got the wrong strategy.”

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur

I learned an early lesson in strategy while playing high school basketball. I was guarding the opposing team’s center, who was a couple of inches taller. He kept posting me up and shooting jumpers and half-hooks right over me. Clearly his coach had seen in scouting that I didn’t know how to “front” a player (and that my teammates didn’t know how to give help). So that’s how they attacked us. It was a painful lesson.

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“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu, Chinese general

The importance of sound strategy applies in work life as well as in sports. In fact, it applies in just about every endeavor. In a public agency like a drinking water or wastewater utility, it can be difficult to act strategically. Funds are often short, demands are many, emergencies (large and small) are common. It becomes easy to slip into fighting fires or managing by crisis.

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“What`s the use of running if you are not on the right road?”

German proverb

But managing by crisis is not the way to run an enterprise. It’s not good for your sanity, it’s not good for the customers you serve, and it’s not good for those customers’ pocketbooks. In the end, emergencies always cost more. The way to be cost-effective is to manage and operate strategically.

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“Begin with the end in mind.”

Stephen Covey, author and educator

What’s the most significant outcome you’re looking for? Maybe it’s zero permit violations. Maybe it’s no sewer overflows an untreated discharges. Or fewer water main breaks. Or lower rates. Whatever your ultimate objective is — your version of the ideal world — that’s where to aim your strategy, and your energy.

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“In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a  distanced view of close things.”

Miyamoto Musashi, Japanese swordsman

Once you’ve chosen your point of focus, don’t let anything distract from it. Share your ultimate aims with your team. Enlist them to help develop the strategy that takes you where you need to go. In planning a budget, don’t think in terms of X and more than last year. Think in terms of what it takes to reach your goal. With strategy comes passion. The more you believe in your strategy, the better you can convince those around you — including those who hold the purse strings — that you’re right.

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“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


It’s hard to stay focused when all manner of day-to-day obstacles arise — turnover on the team, budget directives, neighborhood controversies, petty squabbles between employees, weather events. It can be easy to lose the track, forget the strategy and start fighting fires again.

Don’t let it happen. Keep the focus where it belongs. Write the ultimate goal down where you can look at it every day. Post it in common areas around the office or on placards in the trucks, if you can do it in a way that doesn’t look corny. (Management by slogan is not a good idea, either.)

At the end of each day, ask: How much progress did we make today? Don’t let trifling matters interfere.

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“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

John Wolfgang von Goethe, German philosopher

I hope you’ve enjoyed the insights on strategy from some great minds in various walks of life. Best of luck on the journey.


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