What is strategy? Well, it’s not what you think. It’s what you do.
Or rather, what the organisation achieves.
Stick with me and I’ll tell you what this means to you — the business leader — without going into chapter and verse.
Okay, let’s take a quick look at how many businesses tackle corporate strategy and the strategic planning process.
You, or someone else, thinks … we need a strategy … people set to work, and define in advance what the business will do. The focus is on analysis, the strategy planning process, and hopefully, implementation.
We assume strategy is prescribed. That business leaders somehow have real insight into how the business will operate in the future.
Can the future be accurately predicted?
But, this assumes a predictable environment. What’s more, this approach rarely takes into account the organisation’s politics, culture and leadership.
So, what happens?
Strategic Decisions Don’t Guarantee the Right Results
I’d argue that for many organisations fully-fledged strategies rarely exist. Rather, it is the routines, culture and politics that lead to decisions about what is done and what is not. And, that’s not a rational process of analysis and choice.
Strategic decisions don’t always result in planned moves.
Let me explain …
Over the years, I’ve worked with many organisations. More often than not I observe that the strategic planning process does not result in planned outcomes.
Does Strategy Emerge?
Or, to put it another way, it is the pattern of resource allocation — what people do week in week out — whether carried out explicitly or implicitly, that is the strategy of any organisation.
For instance, a senior manager spends significant funds on an objective simply because there is the money and a determination to do something. Or, an executive director makes a decision to commit additional resources to a business problem.
More often than not, these decisions are made quickly. They’re not done as a consequence of strategic planning. Rather, they are done because difficult decisions need to be made.
So, it would seem, strategy emerges.
But what does this mean? And, more to the point, is this a problem for business?
Let me answer the last question first. Yes, it is.
Order and Chaos
If the business is geared toward prescriptive strategy — analysis, choice, implementation — it will expect work to be orderly and predictive.
In truth, we always have to respond to the aspirations and exigencies of the business, the environment in which we operate, and those who have the capacity, funds and will to commit resources.
Resources are almost always given on a “who comes first, who shouts loudest” basis regardless of a strategic planning process. This pitches business services and teams against each another.
And, it does not fulfil corporate strategy.
So, what do we do?
The Strategic Planning Process
Quite simply, it all depends on the organisation’s approach to strategic planning. The popular view places strategy firmly in the higher echelons of the business. And, the result is often a series of strategic projects and business change programmes that support the business mission and vision.
In contrast, if we were to consider corporate strategy and the strategic planning process — including project delivery — as interrelated activities, we would stand a far greater chance of doing what is most important to the business.
So, to answer the first question … I have to say, once again, it all depends on how you view the strategic planning process.
Does strategy emerge or is it planned?
Whatever your view of corporate strategy or the strategic planning process, this much should be clear: the organisation’s mission and goals should result in policies for guiding decisions and firm actions.
Without a robust strategic planning process the business will inevitably commit resources to the wrong things.
Creative Commons image courtesy Pat Ronan.