Strategy, It’s Not What You've Been Taught

11 Jun

Who has been fed the plan on a page or the one-page strategy as the guiding light of business transformation? When really all it really represents is goals and visions. Or my favorite, the reams of paper dedicated to ‘strategy’ when really its just actions and activities centered around common sense and good practice. We’ve all seen it, been fed it or even created it and that’s okay because now you have a healthy understanding of what strategy - isn’t.

Specifically, it isn’t;

  • A long term goal
  • General good practice
  • Vision statements and business goals
  • Desired direction of travel
  • The pursuit of operational effectiveness.

Good strategy will articulate how to overcome a significant obstacle, harness or create an unfair advantage and nothing more. Oh, it’ll embody the what, how and who but it won’t paint a broad-brush picture of nirvana without a plan to achieve it. That’s confusing strategy with politics.

Lets skip to the nuts & bolts of it all. How do I know when I thinking in purely strategic terms? Well, first of all your strategy must pass at least one of the following tests as the first hurdle:

  • It’ll be difficult or complex to replicate
  • Cost prohibitive to replicate or copy
  • Time consuming to achieve

The check and balance on the above test is that it must also be achievable. This is called the proximate objective test. It’s no good having a strategy that you don’t have the skills, funding or time to accomplish so you must have very good reason to believe that you can reasonably achieve the undertaking.

History has many examples of those who have gotten this right and so very wrong. These are best explained by the godfather of strategy Richard Rumelt, in his book Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, who I unashamedly take a lot of inspiration from.

An important point is that if you don’t have a well articulated strategy, this doesn’t mean you have a bad business. Lots of organisations are very successful for a long time for a lot of very valid reasons and there is nothing wrong with that. The risk however is that you may be prone to a market shock or a competitor sneaking up on you and taking your market position. This has never been more obvious than in the current climate of global economic uncertainty. It is imperative now more than ever that you know what your secret sauce is, how to protect it and how to capitalise on it. Because, if you don’t – someone else will.

Image sourced from Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash 

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