How strategic is your strategy ... really?
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
If you’ve been round for more than a few decades like me, you may recall one of the most famous 1980s slogans “Claytons, the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. A great tagline for Claytons as a non-alcoholic beverage maker… but not one I’d suggest you apply to your ‘strategy’.
It’s not uncommon that what is labelled as ‘strategy’ often doesn’t really seem to be all that strategic. If you’re brave enough to run a litmus test over your strategy to honestly evaluate if it is really strategy…not a ‘Clayton’ strategy... here’s are a few simple tests* below I'd suggest you can apply.
The opposites test: Would you conceivably do the opposite of your stated strategy?
For instance, would you ever seek to do the opposite of: “maximise client outcomes”. Clearly not, so too many examples like this suggest that your strategy isn’t really strategy and merely states the obvious.
The competitor test: Ask yourself… Would your competitors conceivably do the same thing? If yes – is your strategy really a unique strategy? Again, probably not.
Flo’s Florist test: Every town has a Flo’s Florist (or Bill’s Butcher etc). Do a find-and-replace on your company name, replacing it with Flo’s Florist. If your strategy still reads well and largely makes sense, then it isn’t strategy. (You’d be amazed how often this is the case.)
Capability test: Is your strategy consistent with the organisation’s resources, capacity, capabilities to deliver on that strategy? Too often we see for-purpose organisations with ambitious strategies way beyond their ability to deliver; or strategies that are out of kilter with core capabilities. This is often the case when Purpose and Vision are broad.
Your insights from these tests might include:
- If there’s nothing unique in your strategy, it will not likely deliver unique outcomes for the business.
- Hackneyed clichés and business buzz-words will often fail to engage the intended audience or provide clarity of direction.
- Your strategy may not be providing sufficient direction to achieve the goals and vision of your organisation.
- A simple high-level statement for a focus area is fine, but often the next level information flips the other way and come across as entirely tactical.
- Every organisation has a unique context, capabilities, and reason for being: Vanilla strategy is unlikely to achieve the desired results.
It is important to remember that developing the strategy isn't the whole story - in fact it's arguably the easiest part of the journey. Successfully engaging your people and knowing when and how to flex and pivot as you implement your strategy is where the real rubber hits the road.
What tests have you found useful in strengthening your strategy?
Tag someone who might find this helpful.
*other examples of tests for your strategy include McKinsey’s ’10 Tests of Strategy’.
Article key contributor:
Strategy and Operations Lead
for Blue Bike Solutions.
Blue Bike consults extensively with a range of providers across the disability, mental-health, aged-care, international development and social services sectors. Our services span strategy & operations, people & process, systems & technology, and data & insights. We exist to help organisations that focus on delivering a positive community impact do their good better.