Senior people in various businesses often tell me that their team, or a certain individual, isn’t ‘strategic enough’. There has been a glut of comments like this recently and it led me to think that the future of companies and individuals can live or die by how strategic they are or perceived to be.
So, naturally I started thinking about why strategy is so important and what makes an effective one.
Let’s start with what happens if you haven’t got a strategy; you keep running into deadlines, you do lots of little things that have no impact, you do things you shouldn’t, you miss opportunities, you have no focus and ultimately you lose whatever battle you are fighting.
Or, as the great chess player Gary Kasparov once said; ‘ In chess, if you play without long term goals your decisions will be purely reactive, you will be playing your opponents game not your own.’
Wise words indeed.
A great strategy should define what you don’t do as much as what you do. As Michael Porter says, ‘A company without a strategy is willing to try anything’ and that cannot be right. It should set out what you are trying to achieve and provide an overarching framework within which all decisions can be made. Alistair Campbell had a good summary for this; ‘When you have no clear objective you have no definition of winning. If you do not have a clear strategy you have no chance of winning and if all you have are tactics you have no right to win'.
Of course, as in many things, simplicity rules or, as Jack Welch (chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001) says; ‘Don’t over brain things to the point of inaction’. How often do we see strategies contained in 10 cm of dense, complicated copy? No wonder they fail. That’s not strategy that’s what you do when ‘all you have are tactics’.
Finally, the key to making it work is making sure that everyone is on board and understands what you are doing. This requires repetition on a grand scale. Alistair Campbell again; ‘just when you are getting bored with saying something is the point at which when it has a chance of reaching the outer radar of the public’. Jack Welch described the need for repetition very graphically; ‘You have to talk about vision constantly to the point of gagging’.
So, strategy is key as it helps you win the ‘now’ and the ‘tomorrow’. It is something you should never stop doing; ‘When it comes to peering into the future, you just can’t be paranoid enough’ (that man Welsh again)