Strategy is the Art of Saying No

One of the most used and even “abused” buzzwords in and out of the business world is “Strategy”. A term that often refers to intelligent planning and foresight. But are all organizations which affirm following a strategy are really doing so?

This short article is not intended to redefine the meaning of business strategy but point out the key artifacts that determine how far a group of managers are really executing upon a concrete strategy, not just doing some paper work learnt in an MBA. As a strategy analyst, I often start my engagements with looking at my clients’ strategizing process not their strategic intentions. In other words, I do not really care about how smart their plans sound like, but how far they are abiding to them and how well these strategies were initially crafted.  

Strategy in simple words, is nothing but a grid of coherent choices. Some are proactive while others are responsive to external variables. The clarity of these choices, the extent of execution alignment and the quality of the feedback loop are the key criteria by which one can tell if a strategy is in action or on paper.

Several of our clients and acquaintances from the investment field were keen to use our approach in assessing the strategic maturity of their investees, especially startups, aside from the perfect ballroom presentations that often show everything under control and going as planned. The full assessment tool would not fit in an article, but we are keen to share briefly the 3 underlying rules of thumb:

1) The Number of “No”s versus “Yes”s
Those who believe that agility means pursing everything anytime are mistaken. Individuals – on personal or professional levels- who engage desultory in numerous activities and seize to reject what sounds irrelevant to set priorities are simply strategy-less regardless to the fanciness of their plans and goals. Giving attention to what requests instead of what deserves is a good recipe for disasters.

2) The Quality of “Why”s
Focusing on the plan and pushing back irrelevancies is excellent but not enough. If your choices were made haphazardly, it might end up bad. Setting a certain strategy or deciding on key issues should have solid and objective arguments beneath. Here comes the role of analysis, modeling and system thinking in optimizing decision making by relying on facts rather than personal instinct and biases.

3) The consistency of “How”s and “What if”s
Before getting impressed with structured plans about ambitious ventures, check if the daily operations align with the big words or not. More importantly, real strategy work requires regular revisit for adjustment and refinery to cope up with potential challenges and risks. If this as well is not there, so you have surely stepped in an organization that knows what a strategy means but does not master its art.

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