And now for my next strategy

Read any business story or article and you’ll come across the word ‘strategy’.  In some parts of the economy strategy is a word that is used so often it’s difficult to pinpoint what is actually meant.  Some organisations produce strategies as though they’re going out of fashion.  They publish ‘strategy’ documents for  seemingly everything, to the point where some might argue that the organisation in question probably has a strategy for tying shoelaces .  The documents are frequently long and full of graphs, pictures and charts and on closer inspection are often found to say not very much at all or to be plans presented as strategy. The use of the word strategy continues to be confused and confusing.

One of the reasons for confusion is that strategy can be difficult to define clearly.  There is the added complication of understanding what is genuinely strategic and what is tactical.  Matters don’t get any easier when you see the words ‘strategy’, ‘plan’, ‘objectives’ and ‘strategic plan’ used interchangeably.  Strategic matters are important and can involve difficult decisions and choices, including ones relating to what resources are needed and how they will be deployed.  Leaders who embark on a particular strategy may not necessarily learn during the time that they hold their jobs whether they made the right or wrong decisions. Sometimes things take longer than anticipated and the outcomes of choices aren’t clear for a while. 

The views on what strategy actually is and why it matters vary greatly, which doesn’t help.  My own view is that ultimately whilst strategy formulation (whatever shape that takes) matters it is implementation and execution that really makes the difference.  A carefully crafted strategy, underpinned by reams of data and in-depth analyses of sectors, consumer behaviour and market trends means very little if those charged with delivering the results don’t get it right.  When things don’t go to plan remembering the overall strategic intent and adapting as necessary may be what makes the difference between failure and success.  This is an area that effective leaders excel in.  They have a keen eye and grip on the future and are able to translate this into actions in the present.

Those of you familiar with the differing accounts of Honda’s entry into the US market may well be aware that the stories highlight the tensions between views regarding strategy as  deliberate or emergent. Ultimately luck and the ability to adapt played a part in delivering what a finely honed strategy had set out.  This may be your experience as well.  The lesson is not to be scared of the possibility of failure.  The key is to learn from and adapt as a result of any failure.

The work we do with clients aims to bring strategy to life by considering why our clients’ organisations exist, what they  are aiming to do,  how they want to achieve this and what they’ll need.  This isn’t necessarily an easy process but it is worthwhile.  Clients aren’t looking to produce a new strategy every year.  They want to focus on the decisions and choices they need to make, be clear on why they matter and what they expect them to deliver.  When you next embark on reviewing your strategy or perhaps on formulating a new one beware of anyone with a top hat who promises to pull a rabbit.  Strategy isn’t magic.  It takes time,  work and thought. 

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Chris Panas

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