Though almost every leader agrees that having a strategy is crucial for an organisation's success, research has shown that many executives need help to articulate their strategy meaningfully.
A survey by Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management found that 67 per cent of managers believe their organisation is terrible at developing strategy.
In a world where customers have options and rapidly evolving technologies often prompt changes in customer behaviour, running an organisation and achieving success without a clear strategy is almost unheard of.
Even though business strategy is a recent phenomenon, academics and practitioners have written copiously about it because of its relevance to business successes.
Over a thousand ideas, philosophies, frameworks and models have been developed to answer the question of strategy and guide organisations on their journeys.
However, some of these texts could have been more helpful. Unfortunately, most texts have made the strategy concept very esoteric, producing complex frameworks that sometimes make the strategy process an exercise in futility.
In my upcoming series of articles, I aim to provide valuable insights that can assist you and your organisation develop successful strategies.
Drawing from my experience working with executives and facilitating strategy retreats, I hope to clarify some of the confusion and guide you towards making progress.
Today, I outline five mistakes you must avoid on your strategy development and implementation journey.
1. Strategy is NOT in a document but in the doing
Many organisations have spent countless hours developing a document that often ends up on a shelf rather than being utilised in their operations, despite the economic resources invested in it. Several executives say “we have a strategy, but it’s not being implemented.”
No, that's not possible. You are implementing a strategy because your strategy is the daily actions taken within the business, not the document on the shelf. Your organisation always works with a strategy whether you have a written document or not.
The strategy changes when the actions and choices throughout the organisation change. Your strategy document can be a page or 100 pages; what matters is the "doing" within the organisation.
Capturing the ideas in a document serves as a guide, helps stakeholders appreciate what's done, and supports effective review and evaluation. Now, move from documenting to doing.
2. Strategy is NOT to beat the competition but to win with your customers
Organisations have a mission to serve chosen markets and customers in a particular way that enables these selected markets to achieve certain states of being.
The strategy allows the organisation to accomplish its mission meaningfully and elegantly without wasting many resources. In doing this, it's very easy for executives to be side-tracked and focus on what the competition is doing.
Many organisations have followed competitors to death because they did not understand what they were doing.
Some organisations, while strategising to beat the competition they see today, another organisation invented new ways to serve that customer, disrupting the entire industry. Consider the case of the automotive industry.
The incumbents had more resources and better research capabilities than Tesla. However, you know who took the lead in electric vehicles. The competition may be fierce, but your focus must be on your customers rather than the competition.
3. Strategy is NOT for the top management alone
Many falsely believe that the management team and the board set the strategy, and those below and at the bottom implement the strategy.
Hence, most strategy discussions involve top management teams who understand the business's issues more deeply.
This idea is partly true. Top management may need to be made aware of other aspects of the business, especially if they engage the frontline only in the week when the organisation celebrates Customer Service Week.
With talented individuals working across the organisation and contributing uniquely to fulfil demands and ensure customer satisfaction, the organisation's brain is no longer the management team that sits at the top.
It's a grave mistake if the strategy development process does not put in place mechanisms to harvest the relevant insights and wisdom spread throughout the organisation.
4. Strategy is NOT a model but your method for winning
I have asked some executives about their strategy. In response, they referred me to the models and strategy frameworks used to develop their strategy. Your organisation's strategy is not a Balanced scorecard. Neither can an organisation rely on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as a strategy.
I remember how I raised anxiety levels in one of my strategy sessions with a group of executives when we had a full day of strategy conversation, and I did talk about SWOT analysis.
Finally, one executive asked the question, what about SWOT? How did SWOT help in the invention of the iPhone? It's easy for me to imagine how Kodak's fixations on their strengths and weaknesses based on their SWOT analysis led to their undoing.
I need support to appreciate how SWOT helps to imagine new possibilities for their customers when organisations start reflecting on strengths that they have today that are not relevant for today and continue to analyse their weaknesses.
That is demoralising. I would instead focus on a method that helps the team to discuss the issues that matter to the future of the business and its stakeholders. I hope I answered that executive. Strategy models can be helpful as a guide but they are not your strategy.
5. Strategy is NOT your objectives but the options you pursue
Every organisation has goals, targets and outcomes.
These serve as focal points that rally effort and ensure all the organisation's resources and efforts are channelled in the same direction.
However, the goals are not the strategy of the organisation. Your goal may be to double the size of your business in the next three years.
That's a worthy goal but not a strategy. Your strategy is the set of choices that puts you in a unique position to win with customers.
A relevant question is how does doubling your business enable you to serve your customers better? Suppose your offering to the market is compelling. In that case, your customers will support you to double the size of your business.
Hence, the focus must be to win the hearts and minds of the customer as you operate sustainably.
…..be of good cheer!
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Programme, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory.
The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice.
If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to email@example.com.
Until you read from us again, keep leading…..from leader to leader, one practice at a time.
By Robert M. Bennin
The author is a Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory