Among today’s ‘buzz words’, strategy has found favour with governments and businesses all over the world. It is conveniently ‘dropped’ into speeches and conversations, often in support, or defence of spending. In their own way businesses and politicians should be applauded for the application of a strategic plan but this then begs the question, “Is it spin or sound planning?” Possibly the best response is to examine the strategy, but all too often the document will be found to lack detail and worse have no implementation process.
In examining a recent government strategy, I was forced to conclude that the writer had fallen short of creating a strategy, instead developing a sort of ‘mud map’ which, lacked sound research and demonstrated no awareness of the social or economic environment in which the organisation existed. These ramblings could no more guide or assist in achieving the organisation’s objectives in the first instance, because the organisation’s ambitions were found to be absent within the document’s seven pages and in the second instance, some tactics would actually be counter productive to the outcome.
It was at this moment I concluded strategies are radically undervalued and obviously misunderstood. Some glimmer of understanding can be gained by seeking out the word’s origins and tracing the term through history can prove remarkably enlightening.
The word strategem, appears to have been first used in 1480 to 1490 in Middle France and is derived from the Greek and Latin texts relative to generalship and more importantly to the word stratêgeîn, meaning ‘to be in command’. Twenty four centuries ago, Sun Tzu wrote and explained that the strategist seeks the state of Shih – positioning one’s forces at a place of advantage over rivals. Tzu goes on to say, “only when a strategy is in place does the organisation sit in a position of Shih.”
As a modern day strategist, I believe ‘strategy’, is simply the art and science of options. It is a matter of understanding current options, creating new options, and choosing among them. Strategic decision-making involves thinking about the long-term course one will take through a broad competitive landscape. Strategy provides the direction for operations. Operational planning and decision-making, in turn guides the tactical decisions made in the heat of battle.
To write good strategy you must be independent, balanced and logical because it is unlikely that one can create a plan which addresses the needs of any given situation without some form of selfish distraction. Success is never achieved by following ego or self reliant truths which have no basis in fact or are unproven.
Independence means delivering a plan which is void of personal emotions and entering into a place, where many of us feel grave discomfort. A place where others will not go. A place reserved for leaders.
And so, if a modern business strategy is to be truly useful – if it is to work effectively and deliver us the results we require, it must be written and implemented with the full understanding of its purpose; to command the high ground and win the advantage over rivals. To achieve such lofty goals the writer must have a complete knowledge of the environment and the strength, size and whereabouts of its enemy. Most of all, it must direct a pathway and like the branches of a tree, offer other options by which to reach the top.