Strategy is what you Do, Not what you Say

You sometimes hear managers complain that their organization has no strategy. This isn’t true! Every organization has a strategy: its strategy is what it does.  Think about it. Every organization competes in a particular place, in a particular way, and with a set of capabilities and management systems — all of which are the result of choices that people in the organization have made and are making every day. When managers complain that their company’s strategy is ineffectual or non-existent, it’s often because they haven’t quite realized that their strategy is what they’re doing rather than what their bosses are saying.

In most cases, a company will have an ambitious “strategy statement” or mission of some kind: “We are going to be the best in the world in our industry and always lead innovation to the benefit of all of our customers.” The bosses would have worked hard to come up with such a statement and it may very well be a praiseworthy one. But unless it is reflected in the actions of an organization, it is not the organization’s strategy. A company’s strategy is what the company’s people are actually doing, not the slogan that their bosses intone.

The point is that everyone needs to connect the dots. If strategy is what people do rather than what bosses say, it is absolutely critical that each person in the organization should know what it means to take actions, which are consistent with the intent of the strategy as asserted.

Making strategic choices cascades down the entire organization, from top to bottom. This means that every person in the company has a key role to play in making the strategy.  Performing that role well means thinking hard about four things:

1)    What is the strategic intent of the leaders who are a level above mine?

2)    What are the key choices that I make in my jurisdiction?

3)    With what strategic logic can I align those choices with those above me?

4)    How can I communicate the logic of my strategic choices to those who report to me?

If a manager accomplishes the first three of these four, then s/he will own their choices as well as their strategy. If they do the fourth, they will set up their subordinates to repeat these four things and thereby also own their choices and strategy, while passing on the task to the next layer of the company. If each successive layer assumes this level of ownership, then the organization can make its bosses’ statement a real strategy rather than an empty slogan.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes, that while having an ambitious strategy / mission statement is important, it is equally important to make sure everyone in the organization understands it and works towards making it possible. The Senior management has to make sure to start the ball rolling by communicating their strategy well. Unless they do so, it won’t matter a speck how good their choices appear to be, as these won’t get reflected in what the team ends up doing.

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