(This post is the first in a revised and updated version of a series on strategy that I published some time ago. It’s just as relevant as ever.)
Strategy – what a wonderful word. Unfortunately, it gets all too bogged down in protracted semantic debates (“Is that ‘strategy’ or ‘tactics’?”), oxymoronic exercises like “Strategic Planning”, red herrings like “Strategy retreats” and so on.
I’ve long worked with strategy in all kinds of forms at the highest and ‘lowest’ levels of organisations. Strategy infuses our work as consultants and coaches and should infuse everyone’s daily operations.
In a series of posts over the coming weeks, therefore, I am going to delve into a number of aspects of strategy that we believe are important in any sphere of endeavour.
I Laugh in the Face of Sports Interviews on Strategy
I always laugh when I hear journalists ask teams in competitive sports about their strategy.
I laugh because reporters are often asking about why players or teams are losing. What are they meant to say, “We’re just working up to our best level”, “We’re lulling the other teams into a false sense of security”, or “In the first quarter, we were beaten five goals to one because we always come back in the second quarter once we’ve tired the opposition out from scoring so many goals”?
Worse still are the responses like, “We’re just going to go out there and give it 110%” or “There’s no ‘I’ in team, so, you know, it’s all about doing it for the team”, (entertainingly lampooned by Brendan Fraser as a newly minted basketball pro in the 2000 remake of Bedazzled.)
I’ve always thought that the goal of playing competitive sports is to win and that the overarching strategy is to win every single game possible.
It was with delight, therefore, that an executive client and I worked through “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works”, which he introduced at the exec level in his company. The authors in this work agree with my thinking that:
How Do You Get Clarity Around Strategy?
But how do you get clarity around strategy and ensure that you are developing the best options for your situation?
Here are a few of my contentions that help guide its development and help you to be clear:
- Strategy must be useful. That is, it must actually guide the decisions and actions you undertake. If you can’t answer whether or not to undertake an endeavour based on your overall strategy, then it isn’t one.
- Strategy must relate well to common sense. Tactics can be counter-intuitive, but your overall strategy must make sense to you and to your market.
- Strategy must be comprehensible by every player at his or her level of responsibility. If your people don’t understand it, then they can’t make the kinds of decisions you need to be aligned with that overall strategy.
- Strategy must not be conflated with planning. “Strategic planning” is an oxymoron. Strategy is about broad overviews, even when based on solid data. If you invest great detail in mapping out every bit of finance, resourcing, personnel, timing, etc. etc. then you don’t have a strategy, you have an inflexible, blow-by-blow running sheet that cannot be deviated from and therefore is not about achieving the final goal, but about following procedure.
- Strategy must work for you, not against you. This may seem ludicrously obvious, but too often strategy ends up biting firms in the backside. How do you defend against this? Interrogate it thoroughly. Forget blue sky imaginings – that’s fine for a bit of brainstorming, but not for serious strategy. You need to ensure that your strategy has clarity and direction and that it will ultimately benefit all of the pertinent players in your game.
Strategy is about determining how you will win the game you are playing. Everything else proceeds from that premise.