We see lots of definitions of strategy…
Strategy is the direction and scope of an organisation over the long-term: which achieves advantage for the organisation through its configuration of resources within a challenging environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfil stakeholder expectations.”Johnson and Scholes (Exploring Corporate Strategy)
Business strategy, the art and science of enabling an organization to achieve its objective
Marketing strategy, a process that allows an organization to increase sales and achieve a competitive advantage.
Technology strategy, a document that explains how information technology should be used as part of a business strategy.
Digital strategy, the process of specifying an organization’s processes to deploy online assets – Wikipedia
A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim – oxforddictionaries.com
A lot of these refer to future events, aspirations and ideals. They assume we have a modicum of control over events and/or our reactions to them; that we can predict future events and developments within our sectors. I prefer to work with a much simpler view of strategy
Strategy is as Strategy does
At a simple level we often hear people make statements such as “Our strategy is to be No.1 in the market but we need to improve our cash position first”. I would suggest that in this case the strategy is actually and more honestly expressed as “Our strategy is to improve our cash position to enable us to grow to No.1 in the market”
There are a number of benefits to this authenticity such as
The accumulation of cash will be more rapid than if managers and staff are chasing market share
The goal is achievable whereas incorrectly identifying it will mean it is not achievable despite best endeavours
At a deeper level the effort, energy and emotions put into a strategy which does exist/is not achievable will leave staff and managers exhausted and consequently disillusioned and disempowered.
It is a simple statement that Strategy is as Strategy does. In other words the results you get out will be determined by the effort, energy and decisions you make now.
I liken it to someone who buys a house and decides they will do some work in the garden. First they decide to read up on the possibilities so they buy at great expense the horticulture books and learn about soil types, the effect of sun, rain and wind etc. They learn about the appropriate plants, shrubs and trees and decide over time the best place for the barbeque, decking, tables and play areas etc.
As they do all this the garden grows, plants appear at different times of the year, they put in a temporary barbeque and so it goes on. Of course, after a number of years they realise it is as good as it could be but it works and so it stays. The time and money that went into the books is forgotten. How many businesses do this? We engage in reviews and strategy sessions taking up time and money but do no plan anything. We surrender to habit, complacency and ease never reaching our goals.
The more we deal with companies, experience strategic planning and reviews the more we identify the missing piece of the jigsaw. We now suggest that the above strategy should read as “Our strategy is to fully engage management and staff in delivering an improved cash position to enable us to grow to No.1 in the market place”
The people are at the heart of any strategy with all their behaviours, biases, foibles and potential. These are the deliverers of any corporate action but so often are tagged on as an addendum to the corporate plan. How many strategy summaries have we all seen with a bullet point or heading with something like “We will fully engage our employees”/ “We will lead an energised and motivated work force”/ “We will create a dynamic and caring environment for all our staff.”
Typically these appear somewhere in the middle or end of the list after a)engaging/listening to customers b) creating exciting/ reliable products c) understanding the challenges of a changing market. Who exactly is going to do all this if not the employees and we feel we can do it all and then tell/engage them
Strategy is as Strategy does
What we do doing right here right now is sowing the seeds for what we will deliver in the future. So the simple question is always “is what I am doing right here right now fulfilling the aim of engaging the people in this room to deliver the strategy?; if the answer is no simply stop doing it. While we are reading about theory what seeds are we planting? Will we create great products, motivated employees and satisfied customers or will be create what we have got used to creating?
Is our strategy as we are doing on a day to day basis?