How Can You Ensure that Your Strategy Is Substantive, Yet Remarkably Simple?
If strategy remains a cornerstone for organizations aiming to navigate complexities, seize opportunities and ensure future success, why do so many struggle with its definition? Many fall into the trap of creating vague and/or confusing strategic plans, rather than venturing beyond their comfort zones to shape a strategy that not only serves as a substantive foundation, but also emanates simplicity.
In the movie Miracle, which depicts the triumph of the U.S. men’s hockey team over the formidable Russian National Team for the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics, Kurt Russell masterfully portrays legendary National Hockey League (NHL) coach and former player Herb Brooks. In one pivotal scene, Brooks holds a meeting with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to discuss the kind of team he envisions assembling. While the USOC merely seeks a team competent enough to compete, Brooks harbors an ambitious aspiration for the team to reach the medal round.
In Russell’s compelling depiction of Brooks, he astutely points out that not even professional NHL teams have dared to adopt a style of play that would not only rival, but surpass the Russian National Team.
Brooks’s strategy embodies a dual approach: First, he advocates for a complete reinvention of the U.S. team’s playing style, drawing inspiration from the Russian system and using their own tactics against them. Second, he emphasizes the paramount importance of physical conditioning, aiming to outcompete their opponents by being the most prepared and enduring team at the Games. Brooks encapsulates this strategy succinctly throughout the film, proclaiming that “the legs feed the wolf,” indicating that victory would be achieved through endurance and by outlasting and outwitting the Russian National Team.
Confusing Strategy With Goals
In the domain of business leadership, a prevalent trap lies in the inclination to blur the distinction between strategy and goals, leading to the perception of strategy as a grandiose statement or a mere motivational slogan for the organization. This tendency often stems from confusing actual strategic plans with the establishment of goals.
“True strategy delves into the intricacies of how a company intends to achieve its objectives, taking into account a thorough analysis of market dynamics, the competitive landscape and the target audience in order to implement a coherent plan of action.”
Setting sales goals or forecasting revenue growth, while important, does not constitute a comprehensive strategy. Similarly, a blue sky PowerPoint slide with inspirational bullet points or phrases like “let’s win this (account, business, competition, or other adjective),” may provide motivation, but does not represent a robust and well-defined strategy.
True strategy delves into the intricacies of how a company intends to achieve its objectives, taking into account a thorough analysis of market dynamics, the competitive landscape and the target audience in order to implement a coherent plan of action.
The Negative Impact of Bad Strategy
In this McKinsey article, “The Perils of Bad Strategy,” the author had this to say when it comes to leadership’s inability to face the problem: “A strategy is a way through a difficulty, an approach to overcoming an obstacle, a response to a challenge. If the challenge is not defined, it is difficult or impossible to assess the quality of the strategy. And, if you cannot assess that, you cannot reject a bad strategy or improve a good one.”
He later summarizes this by saying, “If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have a stretch goal or a budget or a list of things you wish would happen.”
“A strategy is a way through a difficulty, an approach to overcoming an obstacle, a response to a challenge. If the challenge is not defined, it is difficult or impossible to assess the quality of the strategy. And, if you cannot assess that, you cannot reject a bad strategy or improve a good one.”
The article references these fundamental questions to ask when crafting a good strategy:
1. A diagnosis: An explanation of the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as being the critical ones
2. A guiding policy: An overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis
3. Coherent actions: Steps that are coordinated with one another to support the accomplishment of the guiding policy
An Accessible and Executable Strategic Framework
In the process of formulating strategies for my clients, I engage with them using an approach that distills the aforementioned inquiries into an accessible and executable framework. This framework serves the purpose of harmonizing all stakeholders involved:
GET: Clarify the necessary actions and stakeholders. What specific actions must be undertaken and which stakeholders are involved?
TO: Identify transformational objectives. What aspects require modification or compel a reconsideration from the customer’s perspective?
BY: Establishing motivational catalysts. What driving forces will facilitate the realization of your desired objectives and necessities?
By adhering to this structured methodology, ScheinerInc. not only unravel complexities, but also ensures a clear and actionable strategy that resonates with all relevant parties.
A robust strategy must serve as a shield, safeguarding your organization, brand or service against future uncertainties. It achieves this by erecting well-defined parameters that channel the entire organizational focus towards the essential transformations, the corresponding potential and the method of execution.
While setting goals, formulating marketing initiatives and designing financial plans are essential, leadership should exercise caution in order to prevent the dilution of strategic clarity through the indiscriminate use of jargon.
Rather than merely affixing the term “strategy,” or resorting to overused and often misconstrued expressions, leaders must ensure that their strategic approach remains substantive, precise and, above all, simple.