Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?

In the Harvard Business Review article Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?, David Collis and Michael Rukstad claim most executives cannot summarize their company’s strategy.  Of course, if executives can’t, no one else in the organization will be able to. And those organizations that don’t understand their strategy are unlikely to execute them successfully.

In their words:

In an astonishing number of organizations, executives, frontline employees, and all those in between are frustrated because no clear strategy exists for the company or its lines of business.

In my words:

These organizations have a gap between strategy and execution.

How do they close this gap? By becoming an alignment-focused organization. Getting people on the same page requires a healthy dose of motivation, rather than a simple mandate. I find most people miss this difference and pick the wrong ‘M’ to focus on. It reminds me of the old saying: ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’.

As reader named Phil pointed out in an earlier post, if you’re going to align everyone to your strategy, you have to have a strategy in the first place. A good strategy should start with a definition of the objective, i.e the outcome that the strategy would like to achieve. I describe this as the organization’s mission statement (more in a later post as to why this is different than a vision).

This is worth an experiment. Without looking on your website, can you say what your mission statement is?  Better yet, can you explain how your job helps the organization achieve that mission?

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3 Responses to Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?

  1. Oski April 9, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Another issue you see sometimes is the “shadow strategy” phenomenon. This is when the actual strategy is different than the stated strategy.

    This happens a lot when the real strategy is not very sexy (e.g. when the business is simply a cash cow) or management is simply divorced from reality (e.g. sales guys focus on low price points when talking to customers while management is talking up innovation or some other product attribute). Shadow strategies are what make people roll up their eyes when faced with lofty mission statements.

    On another note, I’d like to turn your challenge around. What is your company’s strategy – in a 140 characters or less :-)? (you must have seen this one coming, right?)

  2. Paul Ritchie April 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Hi Jonathan,
    Perhaps the executives in question have a gap between strategy and strategy…never mind execution.

    Less snarkily, Oski is on to something. It is fairly easy to summarize a differentiating strategy that one’s firm is consciously executing (for good or for ill). It is harder to do anything more than hem-and-haw when you know you’re dishing BS or milking the cow…to continue the bovine metaphors.


  1. Is Strategy top of Mind « PureStone Partners - May 10, 2009

    […] also have unstated strategic objectives, or as Oski refers to them in a comment on this blog post, “shadow strategies” where the organization says one thing, but actually does […]

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