Our business strategy, through the lens of our office tour

Your company strategy should be top secret, jealously guarded by your top management and only spoken about behind closed doors, right? 

I don't buy it.

A company strategy should guide an entire team of people. After all, the word company means "a group of people". A strategy should unite a team around a common purpose, help them make difficult decisions and give them direction for their planning and execution.

Everyone in a company should know their business's strategy. And thanks to one of our advisors, Dan Devine, 12 months ago we adopted the One-page strategic plan, from Gazelles Inc. This document helps a leadership team define and communicate their company strategy in a meaningful way, on just one page, to each and every person in the company. It has fundamentally changed our business, and off the base of our 150-strong team, I believe it has set us up for disciplined, aligned, accountable execution well into the future.

And we've gone one step further.

Not only does every team member receive an updated One-page strategic plan each quarter, but to really ensure our strategy lives at GetSmarter, we've baked it right into our new office space.

Queue office tour, which is is also a lens into GetSmarter's strategic plan: 

Our reception area includes a black glass plate that defines our purpose. At GetSmarter, our purpose is to improve lives through better education. It answers the question "Why do we come to work every morning?" And while each and every person at GetSmarter has multiple purposes in their lives, this purpose - to improve lives through better education - unites us each and every day. It is important that we're reminded of our purpose each morning.

Our purpose is to improve lives through better education, which is just legible on the black glass in the image above. I can get out of bed each morning to pursue that purpose!

Our purpose is to improve lives through better education, which is just legible on the black glass in the image above. I can get out of bed each morning to pursue that purpose!

Underpinning our purpose is a set of five values. These values help our team make decisions, and they answer the question "what should/shouldn't we do, always". They are a statement of what we value at GetSmarter, and they give rise to a set of behaviours we hire for, fire for, and reward.

Our five values are:

1. Honour Learning

We honour learning. Not only for our students because we're an education company, but also for ourselves because we are growing so quickly. If we don't grow, we can't grow with the company. It's crucial that we dedicate ourselves to learning. Our growth, and our company's growth, depends on it. This themed meeting room has wooden school desks, wooden school chairs and a glass plate above them, together with a blackboard that reminds us of how we used to learn at school.

We honour learning. Not only for our students because we're an education company, but also for ourselves because we are growing so quickly. If we don't grow, we can't grow with the company. It's crucial that we dedicate ourselves to learning. Our growth, and our company's growth, depends on it. This themed meeting room has wooden school desks, wooden school chairs and a glass plate above them, together with a blackboard that reminds us of how we used to learn at school.

2. Attention to the right detail

We pay attention to the right detail. Those are magnifying glasses and a statement of this value's associated behaviours on the back wall. This is our strategic value. We take time to think about what detail to pay attention to, and once we have made a decision, we act with purpose. 

We pay attention to the right detail. Those are magnifying glasses and a statement of this value's associated behaviours on the back wall. This is our strategic value. We take time to think about what detail to pay attention to, and once we have made a decision, we act with purpose. 

3. Rude to poor process

We are rude to poor process. That's a scoreboard in the form of a soccer field in the background, with poor processes on the left, and improved processes on the right. In a growing company, processes that worked 12 months ago may no longer be relevant. We are exceptionally rude to poor processes until they become great processes. Anyone can stick up a red or green card with a poor or improved process.

We are rude to poor process. That's a scoreboard in the form of a soccer field in the background, with poor processes on the left, and improved processes on the right. In a growing company, processes that worked 12 months ago may no longer be relevant. We are exceptionally rude to poor processes until they become great processes. Anyone can stick up a red or green card with a poor or improved process.

4. Honest and straightforward

We are honest and straightforward. Always. The mural lists this value's associated behaviours.

We are honest and straightforward. Always. The mural lists this value's associated behaviours.

5. Relationships Matter

Relationships matter to us. We were born from a family business, involving my Dad (Graham), Mom (Mandy), brother (Rob) and myself. Relationships are the key bottom line in our family, and this value shines through to today. We also depend on key relationships with our partners Universities, earning this value a strong place in our list of key values.

Relationships matter to us. We were born from a family business, involving my Dad (Graham), Mom (Mandy), brother (Rob) and myself. Relationships are the key bottom line in our family, and this value shines through to today. We also depend on key relationships with our partners Universities, earning this value a strong place in our list of key values.

So those are our five values, and each one of them has a themed meeting room at our HQ in Cape Town, South Africa.

So far this office tour has revealed that our purpose is to improve lives through better education, and that we have five values:

  • Honour learning
  • Attention to the right detail
  • Rude to poor process
  • Honest and straightforward
  • Relationships matter

Next on our One-page strategic plan is our 10-year big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG for short. This is the long-term goal, way off in the distance, that guides us. It's like a flag on top of a mountain that helps hikers orientate themselves on their journey to the top.

Our BHAG is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. UNISA stands for University of South Africa, and it is the dominant distance learning institution in Africa with over 300,000 students each year. It's a competitive BHAG, and it really gets our competitive juices flowing.

The Big Hairy meeting room describes our big hairy audacious goal, which is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. The room has the big, angry GetSmarter monster chasing after a jumbled up UNISA running away in the right of the image.

The Big Hairy meeting room describes our big hairy audacious goal, which is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. The room has the big, angry GetSmarter monster chasing after a jumbled up UNISA running away in the right of the image.

On to our 3-5 year goals:

Our Sandbox is the place we play. It describes the area of the market we wish to dominate in the next 3-5 years, defined by the products we offer, the customers we serve and the geography we play in. This is a key element of our strategy, and i'm going to limit what I say on this public platform. We've recently had a local company copy us (we're flattered) and this was partly because we were so open in describing our Sandbox.

Our Sandbox is the place we play. That's a table with a sandbox and spades in the middle.

Our Sandbox is the place we play. That's a table with a sandbox and spades in the middle.

And if our Sandbox is the place we play, our Brand Promise is how we win in that Sandbox. It is the promise we make to our customers when they put their faith in us by buying our online education products. And the strong promise we make is that we're going to do everything we can to bring career advancement closer for our students.

Our brand promise is to bring career advancement closer. That's a snakes and ladders board in the background, with pink ladders that represent us helping people advance their careers. There are many ways we do this, with the primary one being partnering with the best University brands and making their high-quality online programmes available in online mode to people who could previously never have dreamed of studying with a prestigious institution. We also add a unique student coaching service to our courses, which helps students achieve a 90% graduation rate. We're very pleased with this result!

Our brand promise is to bring career advancement closer. That's a snakes and ladders board in the background, with pink ladders that represent us helping people advance their careers. There are many ways we do this, with the primary one being partnering with the best University brands and making their high-quality online programmes available in online mode to people who could previously never have dreamed of studying with a prestigious institution. We also add a unique student coaching service to our courses, which helps students achieve a 90% graduation rate. We're very pleased with this result!

At this point in the tour, you should have a good idea of our business strategy. You know our purpose, what we value, our 10-year goal, the sandbox we play in (sort of, because i'm being deliberately vague - see www.getsmarter.co.za for more), and how we win (brand promise).

Each quarter we set a company-wide theme to unite everyone in pursuit of the most important objective that will move the company forward. Our theme for the current quarter is to "Get Set". It includes a scoreboard (pictured below) and six specific projects that need to be completed in order for the team to be ready for our next financial year.

Our Q4 theme is to "Get Set" for our new financial year.

Our Q4 theme is to "Get Set" for our new financial year.

Our Executive Team meets every morning in our Mission Control room. It's themed like a control room, as you can see below. Every Executive Team member checks in with their team's daily metrics, and in this way we get a snapshot of the company's performance each and every day. It's a great discipline to maintain, and keeps us on top of and accountable to our performance.

Mission Control is where our executive team meets every morning to keep the company executing towards achievement of our strategic plan.

Mission Control is where our executive team meets every morning to keep the company executing towards achievement of our strategic plan.

We're a very visual bunch, and so we have scoreboards up throughout the office indicating progress towards important strategic goals. Our last quarter's theme was to achieve 400 students on our postgraduate degree programmes, which we're well on the way to achieving.

This scoreboard is used to show the team our progress towards our important strategic goal of 400 postgraduate students.

This scoreboard is used to show the team our progress towards our important strategic goal of 400 postgraduate students.

Each and every team member has a set of 90-day priorities that describes the most important objective they have for that quarter (one quarter = 13 weeks = 90 days). Team members check in with their line managers each week with a colour status indicating their progress towards their goal achievement. Our Content Team got creative and created a scoreboard above their desk area indicating their priority status from the previous week.

The Content Team got creative with their 90-day priorities. This is their scoreboard about their desks.

The Content Team got creative with their 90-day priorities. This is their scoreboard about their desks.

Oh, and we have a gym. Healthy bodies, healthy minds. Anyone can sign up for free personal training sessions during office hours. It's a wonderful way to integrate exercise into the working day, and a great perk for all GetSmarter team members. Our biokineticist Sheana, who is affectionately known as Ma-sheana, works us hard! The gym helps us live our value of relationships matter with our team members.

We have a gym. It's an awesome perk.

We have a gym. It's an awesome perk.

And that's the end of our office tour, which also happens to describe our business strategy. 

I can't think of a more important objective for a leader of a company than to ensure that everyone has clear direction, and is in alignment with the company's strategic plan. This will lead to serious commitment from all team members, and the best chance of business success.

Towards greatness.

P.S. Here's a link to a video tour of our office, if you'd like a closer look.

P.P.S. I need to acknowledge the great work our exceptionally talented Services Manager, Amy Grewe, did in putting our awesome office space together.