StrategyWe hear the word “strategy” used so much, in company jargon, by consultants, and by individuals, I started wondering how it is really useful and how individual executives approach building their strategy and communicating it to their colleagues. I even demand that candidates have well thought-out strategies for the businesses or functions, such as finance or HR, that they run. So, I started asking the CEO’s and other C-level executives of my clients to help me with this.
One universal response: “Don’t confuse the annual plan (usually due the day before Thanksgiving when everyone just wants the pain to stop) with strategy.” A workable strategy is a living, real-time thought process which should drive everyday decision-making. One leading executive, when asked by a colleague to help craft his strategy, replied, “You know, you already have one; it’s what you’re doing now. You can measure its effectiveness by your results.” My take on this is that it’s not about a tedious planning exercise, but rather about recognizing where you really are and where you want to be, both as a business and also as an executive. What is the target, what do you need to do to get there, and what are the obstacles? One of the most important keys to answering these questions is developing an accurate set of metrics which reflect the real world. It can be illusory success to grow 15% if the market grew at 25% and you want to be #1 or #2 in that market.
Another CEO and client has been frustrated by the “passive” nature of his company’s annual strategy exercise, so he went to an interesting place for advice, The Army War College, where he had met a professor of strategy who had guided troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Colonel offered similar advice to the CEO about the need to have a dynamic strategic view, which identifies specific goals and which reflects constantly changing conditions and obstacles in the way of achieving the objective.
I hope that I can employ these suggestions when I think about conducting my next search engagement more effectively, and I know I’ll press the candidates to describe their strategies with these thoughts in mind.