In response to persistent and incorrect rumors, Mark Twain once wrote at the cusp of the 20th century – ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’. Along the same theme, every so often a rumor emerges from a so-called ‘expert’ to indicate that ‘strategy’ is certainly dead and buried for the business world.
Writing in a prominent business magazine, the quoted ‘guru’ typically concludes that there’s no point in formulating strategy as things (markets, technology, etc.) are just changing too rapidly to develop a plan for the way forward.
What’s wrong with this thesis? And how could it be even more alarming given the actual state of the world? The author has made a fundamental error in confusing longer term planning with strategy. The two are fundamentally different – strategy is about making distinct choices regarding where you’re going ‘play’ in terms of a differentiated niche that specifically articulates your distinct target market, unique value proposition and customer-attracting products and services. Planning, on the other hand, is about putting your choices into play and describing how to close the gap between where you are now and your preferred future.
Strategic planning, as traditionally practiced for a longer term horizon, may indeed be antiquated given the accelerated timeframe of so many aspects of our work world. Technology, changing markets, slower economic growth, enhanced competition and limited financial resources are all creating a climate of uncertainty and change.
However, given all this uncertainty, it’s all the more important to declare your ‘space’ and get clear on how you’re going to prosper within the context of this change. Without this compass, you may be tempted to jump at any emerging ‘shiny object’ that appears without a clear sense of purpose and focus.
Strategy doesn’t guarantee you’ll achieve your vision but it does enable a significantly greater chance of success. Your strategy ‘bucket’ should include:
- What’s our primary purpose?
- What do we want to achieve?
- Why should people do business with us?
- Who are our target customers? What are their primary needs/wants?
- What products/services will we offer? How will we be distinctive?
- How do best serve/reach our customers?
- What do we actually do/manage in our value chain?
- What core knowledge and expertise do we need to be successful?
- What systems must be put into place to advance our agenda?
- What are we going to ‘push on’ over the next six months?
Hosting strategy conversations, on an ongoing basis, has never been more relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. Don’t get locked into fixed positions for longer term horizons but, at the same time, don’t lose sight of the need for clarity and focus. Strategy’s demise has been greatly exaggerated and its continued presence is more important to success than ever.