Strategy

The essence of strategy is in relating your organisation to its environment with structures, systems and processes aimed at enabling and achieving success.  Strategy has always been about succeeding in a competitive environment, and increasingly today that pressure is keenly felt by NFPs, community organisations and government bodies as well as by corporate and small business.

Key points about strategy include:

  • Strategy is not just some nice words linked to a vision, and it’s certainly not just a collection of goals and objectives – at some level it must be built around your response to your major challenges.
  • It’s better to have some form of strategy than none at all – without it, organisational direction is unclear, any tactical opportunity is up for consideration whether it fits the organisation’s capability or not, and success is much less likely, and not measurable against accepted indicators. Much can be learnt from implementing a strategy, even if it isn’t the optimal strategy.
  • Strategy can be developed in a number of ways, with variations including:
    • when and how you do the work. One distinction is whether it’s an upfront planning process, an ’emergent’ learning process, or a combination.
    • how often you renew your strategy. And in periods of incredible disruption such as we’ve experienced in 2020, the time range over which you may choose to develop a particular strategic program might be very condensed.
    • whether you strategise right down to the detail, or keep it higher. In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) the detail end of many strategic plans could be outdated almost before publishing – and this now virtually forces a higher-order approach. In other words, what are you really in business for, what are the defining challenges you are up against, and how best can you set yourselves up for that?
  • And for larger organisations, strategy should be considered at several levels – the corporate level (overall purpose, scope, positioning), business level (competing in particular markets) and operational/team levels (resources, processes and people). Smaller businesses can still take a leaf out of this book.

Strategy is real!

Strategy is not some head-in-the-clouds fanciful exercise. Henry Mintzberg, a global dean of strategic planning, wrote about ‘real strategists’ in Harvard Business Review, saying that they “… are not people who abstract themselves from the daily details; they are the ones who immerse themselves in them while being able to abstract the strategic messages from them. The big picture is painted with little strokes” (Mintzberg The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning. Harvard Business Review, 1994). Michael Porter, another leading global strategy expert for many years, and professor at Harvard Business School, emphasizes the need for strategy to define and communicate an organisation's unique position. He showed how strategy should influence the way your resources, skills, and competencies should be managed to create competitive advantage.

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Levels of strategy

Strategy operates at several levels – organisational, departmental and team – as well at the individual level. Organisation size and structure has an impact on how the work of strategy should be done. And as noted above, if you're developing strategy in a larger organisation, it’s relevant to look at your business in terms of the corporate level, business level, and operational level.

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Strategy or execution?

There’s ongoing debate about whether strategy or execution is more important. The real answer is that while both are important, good execution of a poor strategy cannot achieve much, and certainly not what you want to achieve. A good or great strategy, while not guaranteeing good execution, is an essential factor in your ability to execute. Likewise, it’s critical that your strategy is understood by everyone who makes major decisions, or handles negotiations or communications for your business.

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Strategy and Change

Taking a strategic approach means, amongst other things, being willing to try doing things differently. After all, doing the same things and expecting different results is one definition of insanity (a quote misattributed to Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin but more accurately traced to Rita Mae Brown‘s 1983 book Sudden Death, and possibly originating elsewhere altogether). Many businesses have experienced success - even massive success - for a time; then failed when they kept doing the same thing long after the world had moved on. This is when strategy needs changing - even doing the same things consistently well will not keep producing the same results. Kodak is a prime example. Kodak mistakenly believed they were in the business of making film, when in fact they were in the business of making images, or really - memories. Despite having invented the digital camera in 1975, they were overrun by the digital revolution. It was a classic strategy fail, in that because of their focus on past and present product they didn’t think to focus on the future. In doing so, it was the future client they missed.

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Strategy and performance

When it comes to the crunch, performance is what most organisations judge their success or failure by. Staying in business is one thing, but whether you’re a consistent high performer –perhaps being a leader in your field - is the true test. To be a high performer you have simply got to be doing a lot of things right. Some key factors are the ones we focus on in our services – organisational design, structure and roles, culture, and leadership. When these are optimized, performance follows, and happily - so does satisfaction. And strategy is an area where performance is the ultimate measure. Have a look at your organisation from this perspective:

  • Is your vision clear?
  • Are goals and KPIs linked strongly to this vision?
  • Do these cascade across what is seen as important in the daily life of the organisation?
  • Are they used to empower decision-making and featured in performance measurements?
  • Do you know the key causes or drivers of performance inside your business and the relationship between them?

Sometimes it's helpful to look at some classic models when doing strategy:

  • The Congruence Model is based on the principle that performance is derived from four elements: tasks, people, structure, and culture. In this case, congruence or consistency across these elements is seen as the link between strategy and performance.
  • The McKinsey 7S model involves seven interdependent factors that are categorised as either "hard" or "soft" elements: The Hard Elements are Strategy, Structure, and Systems; while the Soft Elements are Shared Values, Skills, Style (specifically leadership style), and Staff. "Soft" elements can be more difficult to describe, and are less tangible and more influenced by culture. However, they are just as important to an organisation’s success.

These models again reinforce that strategy is important, but equally important is that it is linked to other key elements in your organisation.

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Getting help with strategy

Developing an initial strategy for your organisation or team, or re-developing strategy at critical times, might be where our strategy consulting services come in.

Doing strategy – the essentials:

There are numerous strategic planning approaches, but success-inducing strategy must include:

  • A compelling vision for your business (or department or team) and how it will succeed;
  • If part of a change process, an understanding of ‘As we are’ to ‘as we need to be’;
  • A strong motivation to follow through;
  • Aligning people and systems to the vision so that daily practice contributes to you achieving it;
  • Celebrate positive implementation through recognition, praise and reward.

Check out our information on a Strategic Planning Process (below).

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An Atwork Strategic planning process: sample

We've facilitated many sessions for clients over many years now – here’s an outline of just one of the strategy models we work with.

  1. Our story – past
    • Celebrating success.
    • Anything not working so well?
  2. Our Game - what business are we in
    • a) Clients – profile / demographics - the client of the future.
    • b) Identifying Events, Developments and Trends (ED&Ts) for the industry and sector.
    • c) Product - key products / services - what do we really make here?
    • d) internal scan: historical financial information, service/program data, research with internal and external stakeholders.
    • e) Competitor information.
    • f) Our major challenges NOW.
  3. Our aspirations and goals
    • a) A novel way to describe our vision for the business.
    • b) What two things would you do to change this business?
  4. Where we play and not play?
    • a) Business and organisational values.
    • b) Goals for the partners/directors/team.
  5. Our positive story – optimistic future:
    • a) Vision.
    • b) Mission.
    • c) Objectives.
    • d) KPIs.
  6. How we will win - an ideal future, but ‘doable’.
    • a) What capabilities are necessary?
    • b) What corporate structure and management systems are ideal /essential to deliver this?
    • c) Staffing and remuneration:
      • i) What roles are optimal?
      • ii) What can the business support?
    • d) Site/s
      • i) Current site/s – Limitations.
      • ii) Alternatives?
      • iii) Growth options.
    • e) Succession planning and exit strategies.
    • f) Financial plan:
      • i) Pricing strategy.
      • ii) Past and future cashflows.
    • g) Branding and promotion.
  7. Check: any obstacles upstream (and heading on down)?
    • a) The future is not necessarily going to be more of the same – in fact this is not likely!
  8. Action Planning
    • a) “Endings and beginnings”
    • b) Transition Model.
      • Implementation.
      • Cascading goals.

So, let's work together...

We'll bring our skills and experience to the game, and customise a strategic planning process for you, based on our extensive resources, and yours.

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How we help with Strategy

Head through to our services in Consulting and Facilitation