Demystifying Strategy

In all my interactions with mangers, consultants and a whole lot of other folk in the field of business, I find a common problem: We love using big words. It appears as though each specialisation has made a gentleman’s club of sorts, to which you can gain entry only by using the right language. The problem with this is that it alienates what we do from each other, and doesn’t really help direct business collectively: simply because we don’t speak the same language. As service providers, it often makes it hard for clients to understand the value of what we do, particularly startups and non-profits who aren’t accustomed to corporate language.

One of the most loaded words I have heard repeatedly; and often needlessly, used is: “strategy” or “strategic”If we really break down “strategy” it is simply the shortest line between where we are and where we want to go. “Tactics”as we like to differentiate in jargon is what we should do to get there. 

A mentor of mine taught me well when he said: “There are only two kinds of strategy in the world: audit and directional” I’m going to use this idea to bring to light what “strategy” really is, which I hope unburdens the word:

1. Audit: Facts. Analysis. Information. Data. “What’s the situation?”, “What’s good, and bad?”, “Who’s strong, who’s weak?” The stuff we learn in B-School: SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces and all the other models: these are simply audit. These only tell you where you are today, and give you an indication of where you should be going. This is not difficult to do, and don’t really help any organisation figure out how to get anywhere. This is never enough, and therefore it is not strategic. The key to doing this right is to be relevant to decision making.

2. Directional: Insights. Recommendations. Decisions. Plans. “We need to gain new competencies if we want to achieve this end. Do we develop them, or acquire them?”, “We need a new product in our portfolio, priced at a point that makes our star product more appealing”, “We need to do something interesting, or risk being forgotten”. These give an indication of where we should be headed, and by nature give clarity to steps on what we should do.

One last thing. My mentor always followed his line with: “Don’t give me an audit. I want direction”.

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