Strategy is not a document
There are lots of container words and concepts around the creation of the future of organizations: strategy, vision, ambition, mission, culture, core values and purpose to mention just a few; lately identity and brand values have become part of the mumbo-jumbo around strategy and organizations. In most organizations strategy is seen as complicated concepts coming from the top, oftentimes about numbers, focused around the percentage of profitable growth an organization is supposed to realize in the coming years. In most organizations strategy is not seen as a sense-maker for focus, decision-making and action.
What has been written about strategy and how did concepts around it develop? In 1996 Michael Porter wrote a controversial classical article in Harvard Business Review named “What is strategy?”. His key perspective around strategy is competitive position: “Strategy is about finding a unique position by combining a unique set of activities.” Just before Porter published his article, Jim Collins published his bestseller “Building your company’s vision” in Harvard Business Review where he defined vision as “The highest level of a cascading framework”. For him vision is a broader concept, consisting of purpose, values and envisioned future defined with BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals). In 2013 according to www.businessdictionary.com the definition of strategy is still pretty simple “A plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal.” The idea of a deliberate choice to create a desired future is a key part in this definition. And I believe that for most people that deliberate, somehow controllable part, is important when they think of strategy. I also believe that this idea of deliberateness is being put under pressure in times of emerging opportunities.
One of my daily questions is "how does an organization's strategy drive hearts, minds and behaviors of people in that same organization?". Too often I get a complicated and lengthy document when I ask for the strategy. And when I ask for a verbal strategy pitch, I usually get various versions from different people. The key point I want to make here is that in times of hyperchange strategy cannot be merely captured by a document. Strategy needs to be a continuous dialogue- and learning process based upon a few shared guiding principles. It involves continuous top-down and bottom-up dialogue throughout the year; a journey that drives outside-in and inside-out connectivity, forward- and backward-looking; led by leaders in the organization.
What are key ingredients to create strategy awareness and engagement in organizations?
1. The first one is a short, clear and understandable, preferably visually attractive strategy message; ideally a one pager.
2. The second is a continuous process of top-down and bottom-up interventions to keep connecting collective wisdom within the organization and to drive change-ability.
3. The third is leadership behavior that mirrors desired behavior and that drives individual commitment of each employee.
I would love to hear your stories on experiences through which you felt engaged and connected to your organization's strategy.
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Katharina Schmidt is the founder of Inspiration & Discipline. She wants to bring strategic inspiration, love & execution discipline to people in organisations.