I am often asked by clients what makes for good strategy. Almost as if it is a magic potion that will miraculously cure all organisational ills, while at the same time please shareholders, employees and the CEO. Blue Ocean? Kai Zen? In theory, good strategy could be one of a dozen variants – there’s an entire rainforest of management text books that claim to have the definitive answer. And if you don’t believe me, a quick trawl of Amazon.com revealed 27,719 titles under the ‘strategy’ category! Clearly this matters to organisations.
To paraphrase Michael Porter, ‘Strategy is what helps organisations create competitive advantage by preserving what is distinctive’. Being a common-sense consultant – I confess – I prefer management practice to management theory…but, Porter is right. You out-smart the competition in two ways. Either you do similar things, differently or you do something completely different.
Strategy may be about differentiation, but in reality, the type of strategy you deploy to create competitive advantage doesn’t matter all that much. Magic potion or not, the true wizardry lies in delivery. Intent without action is worthless. Just so, strategy without execution simply won’t deliver on it’s promise.
The key word here is focus. The other key word is action. To my mind this is where many organisations go wrong. I’ve lost count of the number of companies I’ve come across who are drowning in ‘strategic initiatives’. ‘Ah yes’, the CEO will say: ‘We are implementing our strategy’. Really? This strategic activity seems to create a lot of busy, stressed people, running around with Excel spreadsheets and GANNT charts, but doesn’t actually move the organisation forward. Since when is having 1,001 initiatives, strategic?
Surely, being distinct from your competitors means taking a more discerning look at what you will do, and how you will do it. Narrowing your scope to those actions that will truly transform the business, and then acting on them. Effectively. Consistently. As Jack Welch so famously said: ‘Strategy is simple – just pick a general direction and execute like hell!’