It’s surprising the extent to which strategy is discussed in organizations and yet so rarely defined. A few weeks into my study of strategy, I’m seeing it as a well jointed, flexible, tightly aligned and reinforced suit of armor.
What I thought strategy was:
A plan that would take you places. I don’t even know that I thought much about it, other than that a strategy was a plan you could hold up to others when things got confusing and remind everyone we’re not making things up, we have a strategy :cough:plan:cough: for where we want to be .
What I’m discovering a strategy is:
An aligned set of choices that reinforce each other for the success of an individual/group/organization/etc.
These might be articulated or visualized concretely through a plan.
It makes more sense than that managing a strategy isn’t just the same thing as managing a very large project plan. An inevitable challenge and key difference between a strategy and a plan might be that a plan presumes you have already determined how you will generate value. The strategy articulates where value comes from and could be seen as responsible for maintaining a holistic defense against the depletion of whatever value is generated. This invites a longer conversation which I’ll save for another day on tropes of strategy — I have always associated with strategy as a kind of hyper-rationalist masculinity, and this feels like a topic worth exploring more at another time.
Coming back to the discussion of strategy, this notion of flexible rigidity comes up visibly when talking about group and team dynamics. Groups and teams within an organization with a strong strategy should have deep knowledge of how their work fits together with the work of other groups, and how the synthesis of their work (with others’) leads to greater value for their client or customer. They’re each a plate of armor, and their shared intra-group and intra-organizational knowledge is their saving grace.
In a universe of predictable events, or just a generally stable external environment, something like a Balanced Scorecard approach focusing on performance management through lead and lag measures may well make sense.
This said, in a world with so much uncertain, and in an especially volatile external environment like today‘s, are we really served by relying on these kinds of approaches or thinking over strategic philosophies that assume or embrace complexity? Emergent strategy is one approach that favors complexity, and in general bottom-up, customer and user oriented philosophies like TQM and Lean seem to honor that space as well.
I imagine a more ideal strategic thinking approach as one that defers to emergence, driven by the reality that comes from the present reality, but is able to check that a longer arc of principles that state the parameters and objectives that help to identify performance management metrics, but do not define them in so rigid a way as to bend culture away from meaningful, human work and towards meeting a bottom line. I believe that if we build skill and practice in listening to the chaos, it will become clearer as to how we find stability and order in uncertainty.