Use "Even Over" Statements to Distill a Strategy Into Simple Rules of Thumb

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it's about deliberately choosing to be different.”– Michael Porter

It's 4:30pm on a Friday and your team has to make a critical decision by the close of business but you're on an overseas flight, unreachable and unable to help. The team has two options on the table and both seem equally compelling although each have dramatic long-term consequences if they get it wrong. How will the team know, without being able to check in with you and with time ticking away, which call is the right call to make?

Strategic planning is a necessary process but, ultimately, distributed teams need to make decisions with limited time and information. If your Strategy is trapped in a lengthy Powerpoint document or worse a single executive's head, teams will be more likely to drift off-strategy over time and/or be slowed down as they need to run every decision by one person who owns the strategy.

Busy teams need simple heuristics, or rules of thumb, to guide their decision making. One tool we recommend is an Even Over Statement. These are simple phrases that teams can pin up on a wall and use as strategic touchstones in their work.

Examples:

  • Profit margin even over revenue growth
  • Sustainability even over profitability
  • Innovation even over predictability
  • Best in class customer service even over best in class product features
  • Star teams even over star players
  • Taking a real lunch break even over catching up on emails while you eat at your desk

How to Generate Even Over Statements

  1. Gather what you have. Reflect on any existing purpose/mission/values charters and/or strategy documents your team may have already generated. Don't worry if you haven't done this yet, most teams follow an unwritten strategy even if they haven't captured it for sharing. Use this opportunity to make your strategy more explicit. Specifically, keep your eye out for 1) stated goals or objectives and 2) defined values, behaviors, or principles.
  2. Brainstorm positive outcomes, traits, and goals aligned with your values and/or strategy. Create a list of what your team values most. Examples: accountability, productivity, total honesty, fat profit margins, social responsibility, etc.
  3. For every positive you listed, get specific and honest about the tradeoff likely required. For example, a fat profit margin is likely achieved with a less competitive price point. Total honesty may create interpersonal conflicts and stressful creative reviews. React and reflect on these costs as a team. If this is your first time writing Even Over Statements, expressing the cost of a positive outcome may be difficult so we've provided some practice exercises you can try below.
  4. Fill in the blanks: BLANK even over BLANK. The first blank is the preferred positive outcome (e.g. 'A fat profit margin'), the second blank is the tradeoff–only expressed as a positive outcome itself (e.g. 'A competitive price point').
  5. Vote and rank. If you're generating Even Over Statements with your team, give everyone an opportunity to vote for the statements which best reflect the strategic direction at-hand and most honestly capture how the team behaves. Ultimately, you want to arrive at no more than five Even Over Statements.

Pro Tip: An Even Over Statement should feel like it costs you something. Because of opportunity costs, every choice you make is a sacrifice. Therefore, the hallmark of a strong Even Over Statement is how difficult the tradeoff feels between the designated choices. For example, 'being rich even over being poor' is a bad Even Over Statement because it in no way forces a choice.

Get Some Practice

Even Over Statements can be hard to master on your first try, but don't give up–we believe they can be incredibly useful for your team.  When we work with clients, we introduce two practice exercises that can be more personally relevant and a bit fun. For each prompt, run through the steps above.

Generate Even Over Statements that describe how you approached dating when/if you were single in your 20's.

Some of our favorite client examples include:

  • Physical attraction even over shared interests
  • Neighbors even over soulmates
  • Likes the same music even over also wants to have children
  • Has a real job even over every other positive attribute

Now, generate Even Over Statements that describe how you decided on where you currently live.

Some of our favorite client examples include:

  • Short commute even over exciting night life
  • Good schools even over good restaurants
  • A large kitchen even over a walk-in closet
  • Courteous neighbors even over air conditioning

In each of the examples, both the attribute on the left and the right of the statement are positive, yet the people who wrote these expressed an interest in one positive attribute even at the cost of the other. The best Even Over Statements feel personally relevant, honest, and might even require a fierce defense in explanation.

How to Use Even Over Statements

Now that you've developed and refined your Even Over Statements, find every opportunity to incorporate them into daily decision making. If you're a physically co-located team, use the walls around you and write or pin up the statements. If you're remote or distributed, paste them into your working documents or project management tools. As you make decisions, encourage everyone on the team to recite your Even Over Statements and ensure they still reflect the current state of your business and team.

Takeaway: Your team may have already developed implicit Even Over statements; or rather, individuals on your team may have already developed conflicting Even Over statements. By clearing elaborating on your values as a team, you'll be able to make better, more consistent decisions over time.

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