The Anatomy of Strategy – 3 Simple Questions to Test Your Strategy

Strategy formation has been elevated to the realm of the MBA. Curriculum is developed, courses are taught and only the chosen few get to play in this elite playground. Here the air is thin and we have come to accept that only those accustomed to flying at high altitude are entitled to be the ones to formulate the strategy. That is just the way it is and so our strategy descends from above, from the gods on high, and our gratitude is mixed with awe as we get to implement what has been commanded.

However, the widespread problem is that some 90% of strategy fails to get implemented within our organizations and so we are forced to ask, ‘why is this the case’?

There may be a host of complex explanations as to why this is the case but here are three simple questions that need to be asked and engaged if strategy is to be successfully implemented.
Firstly, there is the ‘head’ question:
Do you know what our strategy is? It is often inconceivable to those soaring in the high places, that the strategy with which they have become so familiar through hours of endless debate and discussion, is not understood by those below. But often the simple reality is, it isn’t! For strategy to be effectively implemented, there has to be a collective commitment to the why, what and how of the strategy. All too often the ‘need to know’ leadership mindset that guards the information emanating from on high gets in the way of the necessary translation of knowing the strategy. Many leaders who are ensnared in this mindset have failed to understand the grasp the new reality of what it means to lead in a techno-info age, an age in which information is valuable is so far as it is shared not hoarded; and age in which there is convergence when it comes to accessing and retrieving information.

Secondly, there is the ‘heart’ question: Can you feel our strategy? In other words any effective strategy has to engage the emotions, the heart, of those tasked with its implementation. Without heart engagement you have mere compliance. Passion is a matter of the heart, and feeling positive about the strategy, is a vital component in living the strategy. When this is present the impact is felt not only by those inside our business, but it extends to all those within the full reach of our business. And herein lies the secret of authentic customer service. Passion can be drummed up in sporadic doses by why of slickly oiled motivational exercises and interventions, but this type of passion is short-lived. It usually takes the form of the ‘motivational speaker’ at the annual conference and seldom amounts to anything more than good entertainment at the time. Authentic passion emanates from achieving the collective buy-in and sense of ownership towards the attainment of a desired goal. Within organizations our operational expertise and good-sense, so important to the formation of strategy, is matched by a poor understanding of the ‘people-issues’ that are vital to the successful execution of any strategy.

Thirdly, there is the ‘hands’ question: What are you doing to implement our strategy? When there is an understanding (head) of what the strategy is; a commitment (heart) to the strategy, only then can there be an intelligent, measurable, coordinated and practical ‘doing’ of the strategy. Strategy depends on everyone doing his or her part in achieving the successful execution of the strategy.

A positive response to these three simple questions creates the context for another vital characteristic of organizations that desire to be successfully in this brave new world of work, namely, the ability to respond and adapt to the unexpected. The ability to adapt quickly to the unexpected requires a level of ownership to permeate throughout the organization. Such ownership provides the momentum for individual or group initiative to be exercised.

You want your staff to practice such initiative, the kind of initiative that is beyond ‘being trained’? Well then, a good starting point would be to spend some time asking your people, (and by ‘your people’ I do not mean only those familiar with your office) these three questions. And who knows, you may just be surprised by what you learn about your organization!


3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Strategy – 3 Simple Questions to Test Your Strategy”

  1. Starla says:

    How so true! Been working in assessing why our development plans never go through and it all comes down to the 3 reasons above. I’m struggling though with “the heart” part because what can you do with “the people” who are hired to do the work but don’t have “the heart” and are protected by the law or union for example so the option of replacing them is not really an option. Help?

  2. Brad says:

    Keith I think your article is spot on with the habits of most corporates nowadays. We have just had a new CEO appointed from
    outside our industry. His comment to our senior leadership after being with us for two months, was painfully accurate.
    His observation was that we have formulated some of the most articulate plans for our business over the past three years,
    but in reality less than 50% of these have actually being carried through into the implementation phase, where they have
    impacted the business. Business success will be determined by ‘doing’ the strategic plans and not just posting them on
    walls and conference screens. It’s a challenge.

  3. Lance says:

    My sense is that while the above is entirely true, understanding your organisation and it’s specific needs is what will determine
    successful implementation. Most organisations sit with talented individuals who require inspirational leadership to change
    behaviour and create the climate for successful strategy implementeation.Theoretical frameworks create the context however
    middle management create the environments in which they thrive. Focus on a multi pronged approach to implementation and
    the chances are you will be successful. Speak to your managers, both executives and middle managers, determine what
    works best and then act on their suggestions.

    Lastly, communicate, communicate, communicate the agreed actions. Evaluate progress and amend the plan as you go.
    Make sure that the end goal is clear and measurable.

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