The Problem with Strategy

A lot of the strategy we see seems to be broken.

Yet we need good strategies more than ever. We are drowning in choices everyday, what should we do, what should we focus on? A well designed strategy answers this question so simply that it removes any analysis by paralysis. It helps your team act with direction and focus.

So why is good strategy so elusive?

Complexity Pretending to Be Strategy

It seems the definition of strategy has been lost. Worse yet, the methodology for producing strategy has become some sort of intellectual contest, often left to one person to produce dense, complex and jargon-filled strategic documents. These documents lack any sort of hard decisions or focus and therefore gather dust instead of helping people in their daily decisions.

Goals & Tactics Are Not a Strategy

Another common issue is the ‘strategy’ of spend more, do more, do better. This is typically the outcome of a flawed process such as throwing a management team into a room with a blank white board and asking them to dream up a bunch of goals and KPI’s and call it strategy. When did goal setting become strategy? We are none the wiser on why and how we will achieve these goals in the first place, and we’re now totally overwhelmed by all the KPIs we have to hit.

Failure to Diagnose & Make the Hard Decisions

Accepting that there are problems to be faced can sit uncomfortably for leaders of organisations, as if it is a reflection on them. The reality is we live in a changing world that constantly throws up unforeseen challenges to achieving our vision . A clear diagnosis of the problem is critical. Armed with this diagnosis we still need to make choices and hard decisions for our team, without doing so your strategy will lack focus and direction, and result in a ‘do more, do better’ style strategy. Steve Jobs famously said ‘Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do’. He lived this when he returned to a troubled Apple in 1997 and revealed that his strategy was to cut 70% of the product line because consumers were confused. The rest is history.

Fortunately, there is a better way.

Richard Rumelt’s Perspective  

Richard Rumelt is a strategy expert, and learning about Rumelt’s thoughts and methodologies in his book was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me personally, where all these theories about strategy clicked into place and made sense. It was a moment where I literally couldn’t wait to share this thinking with anyone who would listen. Our methodology and principles for strategy at Raine & Makin are rooted deeply in the strategic philosophies of this man.

The Elements of Good Strategy

Discovery & Diagnosis
Thorough research and discovery into the complex challenges faced by the organisation and its customers, so that the key issues can be identified, easily explained and insights gleaned. Accepting that you are facing challenges and problems is often a hurdle that organisations struggle with in the first place. This stage is the most important, without it the strategy is guesswork at best. For this reason it should be the most resourced.

Develop a Guiding Principle
Design simple high-level principles to overcome or exploit the challenges identified in the discovery phase. Basing the principle on insights from the discovery work is your best bet. 

Deliver actions and tactics that are coherent with one another to accomplish the guiding principle. It is important to specify what we won’t do here as much as what we will do.

How will we know if the strategy is working? When will we review? This is the time to develop KPI’s, not at the beginning.

There are some great examples of this framework being used in this slideshare that further explains Rumelt’s approach.

We have always been drawn to strategy at Raine & Makin, and I have often wondered why. It makes sense to us now because what you see above is ‘design’ in its purest form. As designers we bring a human centred approach to strategy. This is based on our formal education in using research, creativity and clear communication to overcome commercial challenges.

The Main Point

A strong strategy is based in a thorough understanding of the situation and the challenge you face. It must contain choices and principles that are simply and succinctly explained. You’ll know you have a good strategy when your team use it daily to act and make decisions.

By Luke Schoknecht | Director

Image by Pablo Garcia Saldana