"New" Strategy vs "Old" Strategy

We've been doing a lot of "New Strategy" work (yes, we've written about this before), involving typically one or two-day workshops with senior management and the Board, to focus on the three-five key strategic issues of the day, and lay out a (usually multi-year) action plan.  This is what we call "new strategy" - workshop driven, interactive, focused, action-oriented.  All good.  

"Old" strategy, by contrast, may have used workshops for issues, but it was in a context of preparing the strategic plan, which was usually a several month long process, involving customer, market and product analyses, and a may have used workshops of various types with key stakeholder groups to focus on specific issues.  Overarching strategies would develop, and be driven downwards. Very top-down and process driven. Few have time for this approach today in our rapid-fire, rapid-response world.  

While "old" (or big) strategy is rarely the approach these days, the risk in "new strategy"  is in the baby being thrown out with the bath water. Over and above the right actions and key strategies - two things remain very useful outcomes that "new strategy" doesn't always deliver:

  • a strategic plan document - useful for synthesizing the arguments, analysis and conclusions that led to the strategic choices themselves. Often strategies are open to second-guessing, and you need to explain (and sometimes remember) your reasoning (over and above making sure your assumptions hold water).  
  • the over-arching strategic vision - which shows people how their part fits in the whole.  How their goal is part of a larger goal. Without this, you can end up doing a lot of explaining. 

We like the New Strategy. It's responsive, and it's what the doctor ordered for many firms. But we do get asked a lot "do we really need a strategic plan document? Everyone knows what they have to do...."

The thing about "everyone knowing what to do" is that while true, it's helpful only to a point. It's like believing that if you had a boat with spots for 10 rowers, that everyone would know they needed to row. Yes, but. There are two tricks that are key to getting where you want to go: 1) everyone needs to row in sync or no one goes anywhere, and 2) someone needs to steer, because no amount of rowing gets you someplace without steering. And "getting where you want to go" is the difference between winning, and something much less pleasant. 

"Getting where you want to go," for an organization, is only possible if you write some things down, and share them widely. It's the way leaders lead through tumultuous times, and it's called strategy. And then, after you set the plan, you need to execute. But that's part two of the story, for another day.