Some of you may have shared the fun I did as a teenager of just driving for the sake of driving. Many times my friends and I had nowhere in particular to go, but we would all pile into a car and just drive for several hours. We would talk, laugh, and find new places that we had not visited before by sheer accident. It was relaxing and held a feeling of real freedom because we were not accountable to anyone, not constrained by a schedule, and just following wherever our curiosity took us.
This desire to operate free of constraints is a common human desire. From childhood on, most fantasize as well as crave more freedom and less accountability. Although it is not advisable as a life plan in our personal lives, it is just as, if not more dangerous in our organizations. Although being flexible, rolling with the punches, or making it up as we go along are all commonly accepted ideas, each rarely makes our organizations more effective overall. These are important tactical characteristics, but poor short-term strategic values. In many cases, these ideas are the same as saying “I see a cliff and do not want drive off it, but I am going to accelerate toward it.”
Most of us view strategy as one of those encumbering requirements that serve little purpose in our daily business life, but our organizations talk a lot about it, hold boring meetings over it, and justify all types of poor decisions with it. Although these assumptions may be true for some organizations, empirical results demonstrate that there is a tangible and substantial difference between those organizations that take strategy seriously and those that do not.
Strategy comes from ancient Greek and possesses a military origin. In the simplest sense, it refers to an overall plan that achieves a goal. Strategy is different than tactics which encompasses the actual steps necessary for the strategy to be realized. Without a strategy, actions are not joined together, fail to serve similar purposes, and rarely even support one another. There are three key things to keep in mind when evaluating or creating your organization’s strategy:
- Strategy requires knowledge
- Strategy formation is about hard choices
- Method matters
Strategy Requires Knowledge
Simply possessing a strategy is not sufficient to be successful. Like ice cream, wine, clothes, as well as other things, there are different levels of quality in most things and strategy is one of them. Today, most organizations have a strategy for the sake of having a strategy. We know it is something that “good” organizations have. However, an effective strategy is more than just a statement. It draws on the creator’s knowledge of the organization, its resources, and the environment you operate within on a regular basis. It is meaningful because it is feasible, serves the organization’s mission, and produces the desired result.
Strategy Format is About Hard Choices
Any time there are multiple interests and issues, compromise can be complicated. An effective strategy necessitates that stakeholders not only participate in the strategy formation process, but also support the resulting strategy. In order to realize these dual requirements, hard choices have to be made that result in some things being lost coupled with some things being gained. I recently worked with an organization that is attempting to transform its community. As the discussion moved from listing all the things each stakeholder group wanted to creating a list of the actual strategies, the discussion started to break down. None of the stakeholder groups were willing to sacrifice their concerns during the prioritization process, so everything became a priority. Basically, the strategy became “all good things go together.” After several sessions, the stakeholders grudgingly created a workable list of strategies and goals, but only after realizing that feasibility is a critical part of strategy. Although forming the strategy is not as hard as living by it, it is the first of many tough steps.
It is human nature to assume that if we take a different road and end up at the same place, everything turned out as it should have. Part of this perception relates to our desire for freedom and empowerment and in other ways it ties to our strong commitment to our own individuality. When forming strategy the method does matter since it dictates the quality of the strategy and the probability of realizing the organization’s goals. The process should be focused on the organization’s mission and vision, inclusive of all stakeholders, incorporate specific attainable outcomes, and assist with improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the organization. Strategy formation is the first step to your organization’s success.