Are You Headed Towards A “Stragedy?”

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We have invented a new word: Stragedy™. 

It’s not a spelling mistake, but a real-world phenomenon.

Strategy + Tragedy = Stragedy.

We define Stragedy as the following:

 

Stragedy: a plan of action designed to achieve an overall aim that has an unhappy ending and creates the likely downfall of a company. There are many traps that lead to a Stragedy.

 

Another trap that leads to Stragedy is the erroneous belief that an organization’s world can be mapped out and dealt with in a fixed period of time at a strategic planning offsite. If you think your annual offsite will keep you in front of the competition, you’re wrong. It is just a fact: strategic planning done on your schedule cannot keep up with the speed of change in your competitive landscape.   

 

We have found that most executives relate to strategy as an event driven practice set in advance on everyone’s calendar. Dr. Daniel Shapiro, former Dean of SFU’s Beedie School of Business, recently observed something similar, asking, ‘Have you ever noticed that corporate strategy is anchored in discrete events in time and then reviewed, at best, on a quarterly basis?’ 

 

We’re not saying do not plan—planning is a useful operational practice.  For routine situations, a plan helps teams stay on task, hit their deadlines, and make their deliverables…but planning alone will not have your team win. Plans are not strategy.

 

So you may wonder: if strategic offsites and planning are not the answer, how do I avoid a Stragedy?  First, consider that the world may not co-operate with your pre-planned offsites. Unplanned opportunities may emerge that need immediate action and cannot wait until the next scheduled calendar event. Similarly, unplanned world or industry events may threaten the direction your organization is currently taking. 

 

An alternative and more potent way to relate to strategy is to view it as way of thinking that is practiced each day. 

 

Rather than pouring energy and resources into strategic planning events, develop the muscle for strategic thinking as an ongoing, and even an every day practice.  Henry Mintzberg, the seminal Canadian management practice thinker, thought of strategy as a pattern in a stream of decisions (if you haven’t read this article, you should). 

 

The word strategy derives from the Greek word for “general”, and refers to the art of arranging troops. In a military context, the artful general looks to influence and shape ongoing opportunities in order to win specific objectives. The artful general knows no plan survives contact with the enemy. The general reads the developing situation, gets clear on the facts, adjusts their thinking, and makes a stream of decisions faster than their adversary in order to shape outcomes.

 

To think and operate strategically, like a general, a point of reference is needed. Leaders need a place to stand, from which to weigh their options. An effective tool we have used as a reference point is the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide Act), a decision-making cycle developed to deal with opponents in fast-paced and ever-changing scenarios.

 

Effective generals are not married to their plans or their scheduled meetings, but instead, have a clear vision of what winning looks like in the future. If the plan and the emergent situation are not aligned, the general is free to revise the plan in the moment in order to act towards the desired outcome.

 

In a business context, this would be easy if decision-making power was harnessed by only one person (like a general). However, in the world of business, decision-rights are dispersed amongst executive teams, and thus, aligning on key objectives and operating assumptions in advance is essential in order to make decisions based on emergent situations. This team alignment allows executives and managers at all levels to make key decisions based on a shared strategic context. 

 

Want to avoid a Stragedy? Ditch the emphasis on having a plan and stop saving key decisions for the next scheduled offsite. Instead, use your offsite to align and empower your team to make decisions based on a shared set of future-focused considerations.