Strategy is too often taken to mean no more than a plan – how I intend to achieve my objectives? Not much of a start point and the basis for a lot of confusion.
In a military context Strategy can be defined as the use of force (or threat of force) to achieve political objectives, against the hostile will of an enemy. 3 things can usefully be understood from this:
- Strategy is a means to an end – the objective must be clear! Battlefield victories have too often obscured this fact. Napoleon is actually an awful example of a successful strategist because for all his success on the battlefield he failed to deliver a lasting and advantageous peace to France. The point about defeating an army is that this is simply a means to an end and you better be clear what that end is.
- Your resources must match your objectives – the perennial failure of British foreign and defence policy! The failure of campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq can in part be explained by the chasm between policy objectives and the resources available for the job. Strategy is a practical activity and what defines its practicality are the resources available.
- Strategy takes place in opposition to another force. As a consequence it is highly unpredictable and will need to be responsive to events and the actions of your opponent.
How can this be developed to better understand strategy in a business context?
- Define the end state. What is the imagined more advantageous future we are working towards? This involves diagnosis and understanding – both of your own organisation and of the overall environment. This drives key choices about your products, services and customers - who, what and where and equally important, what do you choose to discard - what are we not doing? Focus and clarity of purpose are critical.
- Strategic concept. It should be easy to express this in a couple of sentences. With an end state in mind we can know develop an overarching concept of how to achieve the objective. Remembering that strategy implies an adversarial relationship with others. How do we choose to compete and how will we win?
- Implementation – planning and execution should be seamless parts of the same process. The practicality of a strategy is critical to its success – the right resources effectively employed. Activity and resources aligned to the strategy in a coherent plan. This is where detail is developed on the actions and activities that need to occur in order to meet your overall strategic objective.
- Flexibility and Responsiveness. Stay alert to evolving context, every advantage is temporary and we must maintain the alertness, flexibility and judgement to know when to change and evolve a strategy.
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