How thinking like a start-up can help your organisation to develop an effective strategy

With significant change taking place across the social and community sectors – impacting areas such as disability, primary health and aged care – the ability of many organisations to define a fit-for-purpose organisational vision and mission is being challenged. It has never been more important to ensure that your organisation’s strategy reflects the rapidly changing contextual environment, ensuring that it (and it’s people) can continue delivering meaningful outcomes.

Imperative strategic questions you need to answer

At its essence, an organisational strategy captures the key goals of a business and how it intends to attain those goals. But not all strategies are created equal.

Depending on specific businesses, there are some essential questions that you should look to answer when developing your strategy. Here are four fundamental ideas that should be considered:

  • Vision: What is the long-term goal(s) for your organisation that serves as its guiding ‘north star’? This is ultimately the ‘heart’ of your organisation that everyone will subscribe to.

  • Focus areas: What will the core areas of focus for the business be and what are some of the potential distractions that should not be considered (or proactively avoided)?

  • Competitive advantage: What strengths and resources does your business have that offer a competitive advantage and how can you best leverage them in the market?

  • Enablers: What are the people, systems and other enabling supports that you’ll need to have in place to activate your competitive advantage and deliver on your strategic goals?

Challenges with conventional strategic planning approaches

It is common to see organisations attempting to answer the four, key questions through day-long planning workshops or weekend strategic retreats, typically attended by Executives and Board members. However, the challenges that can manifest from developing strategic plans using this method can result in a strategic plan that does not reflect the dynamic environment in which the organisation works. This is because such strategic plans are at risk of exhibiting the following characteristics:

  • Fixed and lacks agility: Typically such plans, while well-written, are overly detailed and rigid. This is because these plans adopt linear planning techniques, where 3 to 5-year goals, initiatives and KPIs are defined. However, by doing so, little flexibility is provided to accommodate the highly dynamic operating context which may require that these goals shift or be replaced by other, more appropriate ones over time.

  • Overly reliant on assumptions: Strategic planning workshops often rely on the (assumed) knowledge of the participating Executives and Board members, and do not always allow for the necessary inputs and validation from customers or data obtained from organisational programs or services.

  • Implemented top-down: With the success of strategic plans largely dependent on its execution, developing an organisation’s strategy without input from the people implementing it – that is, the front line staff that are the primary interface of the organisation with its customers – will significantly undermine the entire process.

Lessons we can learn from start-ups

There is no denying that start-ups adopt a different approach towards strategic planning than established organisations. In considering ways to develop your next strategic plan or bring greater focus to your existing one, organisations will benefit from thinking through the lens of a start-up, including:

  • Short-term planning: Trying to plan for the next 3 – 5 years upfront is a significant undertaking and one that often ends up being a frustrating process with low returns. Start-ups instead focus on having a clear vision or purpose for the organisation, while working towards bit size chunks of activities that can be iterated as greater knowledge is gained about the activity and the operating environment (called ‘Sprints’). Organisations can learn from this by reducing the horizon of their planning activity and incorporating regular feedback-loops in the development and execution of the strategy – in order words, trialling, piloting and iterating activities to ensure that they remain as dynamic as the environment in which they operate.

  • Customer centricity: Products and services created by start-ups are designed and developed in direct response to their customers’ needs, not on assumptions. Organisations should make it a point to involve their customers and their key stakeholders – from front-line workers, to influencers, to affiliates –  in the strategy development process to validate key business assumptions.

  • Open-source: Start-ups often have a culture that promotes collaboration and innovation, where everyone is encouraged to contribute towards new ideas and the direction of the organisation. Organisations should invite staff from across the business to have a say in the strategy development process and in the ongoing iteration of the activities.


Impact Co. works with both established organisations and start-ups across the disability, health and broader human services sector. If you would like to learn more about adopting a start-up approach to your strategic planning process or to find out how we can support your next project, please get in touch. Contact us at and start making an impact in your business today.

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