Strategy is overrated (and misunderstood)

If I have a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Your not being strategic enough” or “What’s your strategy?” I think I would not have to worry about being out of work.  The truth is that the term strategy is probably the most misunderstood and overused term in business today.  The funny thing is that if you asked 25 people to define strategy, you would probably get at least 15 different definitions.  If you really want to get a conversation going, ask people to tell you the difference between a strategy & a tactic!  (I worked in a $300MM organization that had meeting after meeting {with all VP level execs and up} during the budget process trying to agree on and define these terms for the rest of the organization.)  I believe that strategy is a bit like pornography in the sense that you know it when you see it – according to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964.

I will give you the best definition of strategy I have read and it is from Fred Nickols.

“A term that refers to a complex web of thoughts, ideas, insights, experiences, goals, expertise, memories, perceptions, & expectations that provides general guidance for specific actions in pursuit of particular ends.”

We have seemed to latch onto strategy as the “holy grail” of business success.  It seems as if everyone I talk to is always working strategically on something.  What exactly does that mean?  Is there a way to work non-strategically?  Why the pre-occupation with the term?  Especially when it is so difficult to define in a way that enables other to know exactly what you mean.  The real challenge is that when someone tells you that you are not strategic enough, how can you possibly defend yourself?

{Deep breath}…Okay I have now stepped off of my soapbox and will get back to the original point I wanted to make when I started.

Strategy is only 1/4 of the planning process (and possibly the least important).  The 4 pieces are:

  • The ends to be obtained
  • Strategies
  • Tactics
  • Resources

When you set out to plan for your endeavor you will need all 4 of these in order to be successful.  In fact, I designed a formula that makes it easy to remember.

Planning Effectivness = Goals x Strategy x Tactics x Resources

The PE can also be squared by Buy-In (everyone is on board with the plan)

The painful reality is that no matter how great your G & S may be, if you cannot execute the tactics or lack the resources to make it happen, you are sunk.  That is why some of the best companies today are so focused on execution and operational effectiveness.  It is better to have an average strategy executed flawlessly than a brilliant strategy that was not embraced by the organization.

The problem is that execution of any strategy is not the fun part.  Coming in day after day making it happen is not what everyone aspires to do but it is where the money is made!  I have always told my people that it takes “intestinal fortitude” to make a strategy happen.  It rarely goes as planned and there are many challenges along the way, but it can be wonderfully satisfying to see it become a reality.  Too bad most of the people who created it rarely stick around for the implementation.

In today’s business environment, we had better be focused on “doing” just as much as “thinking”.  In fact, I think the old adage goes, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.”



Filed under Leadership, Strategy, Systems Thinking, Thinking about thinking

2 responses to “Strategy is overrated (and misunderstood)

  1. Perry,

    Love this post. This seems to happen with companies that become so big they forget where they came from or how they got started. Companies who have plateaued in the growth stage and need to look at how to reinvent themselves in the renewal stage.

    I always joke about executives having, “meetings about meetings.” This is like a wild west gunfighter shooting himself in the foot before high noon in that the company loses a competitive edge before a new entrant or second place competitor makes a move.

    This comes back to your point about the creators rarely stick around for the implementation and why organizational culture and sense of ownership are vital for retaining talent.

  2. Nice rant/post. We’ve elevated leadership and strategy to a level of importance that neither warrants. I think it’s because they’re the easy parts of accomplishing a mission, all you have to do is think. But when people get involved and it’s time to act, things are tougher.

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