Three possible explanations for strategy failure

Have you attended to strategy recently? Strategy. Strategy. Strategy. Sometimes it appears to be the most over-used word in business. From our observations, if this obsession with strategy ultimately disappoints, and perhaps that’s too frequently, then three explanations may loom large:

Planning is confused for strategy

Strategy is knowing where to play and how to win, whereas planning relates to working out how a strategy might be accomplished. If you discount all references to strategy when it’s actually planning then you might well find strategy under-represented in business discourse, and possibly alarmingly so.

Strategy ignores emergence

The deliberate strategy approach is most common, and too often exclusively so. This familiar process is constrained to a minority of select individuals in the organisation, typically of a certain seniority, who divine the way forward during some compressed timeline or event. They then instruct the rest of the organisation to make it happen.

Emergent strategy however recognises that strategy may form ‘from below’, if you want to be hierarchical about it. More accurately, it’s formed on a continuous basis from the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day business and its feel for what’s happening and about to happen in the market. Today’s fast moving, ever changing environment makes emergent strategy a requirement not a nice-to-have, and it’s a major facet of social business. Our Philip Sheldrake posted about it recently: Deliberate and emergent, by design.

Strategy isn’t executed

What good is well articulated strategy left on the shelf? When planning and execution do not do it justice? Rather, plans too often serve the status quo and / or personal agenda than strategy, and execution is frustrated by stubborn resistance to the alignment of operational capabilities with strategic demands. There are many more management texts addressing strategy (48k Amazon book results) than execution (1,100 results), more’s the pity. Why is that? Why is a job role encompassing “strategy” often valued more highly than one dedicated to execution? And how ironic given “executive” is the E in CEO.

… So, have you attended to strategy recently?


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