Need for Strategy
Torsten Bell, Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation, began his powerful Financial Times article on 13Mar23 by saying: “The UK has lost the habit of thinking strategically”. I do not wish to correct Mr Bell, rather to add to his timely observation. The whole world seems to have lost the habit of thinking strategically. Indeed, I wonder if anyone any longer knows what strategic thinking is, or how it differs from tactical behaviour. Some say it is ‘a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim’. That rather pushes the definition to ‘plan’ – something people seem to be avoiding on the grounds either that it is too difficult or that a fast-moving world is purely tactical anyway. Our use of strategy as a discipline has failed to keep up with the speed and facility of communications. That is a reason for bringing it back – and quickly, too.
Any society that loses or abandons strategy is doomed to unending trial and error. Wars are fought by those who believe that their presence will command a surrender. Sanctions are imposed with a conviction that they will hurt aggressors when actually they hurt the innocent. Postures are paraded to imply that brawn is still the source of power leaving moderation and kindness as signs of weakness. Language is brutalised to prove the keyboard is mightier than the sword – and loses all its compulsion after the first utterance. Punishment by pain is society’s ‘eye for an eye’. It is supposed to reform criminals; recidivism confirms that it doesn’t. The young are punished for learning to grow up. Yet we have still not learned that hitting children is poor proof of praiseworthy parenting.
Strategy is a path to achieve Purpose – for ourselves but, as a society of humans, essentially for others, too. We understand that effective human beings need no accolades to change the world, no celebrity status to make life better for others. All achievement, even if not complete, merits praise and recognition but the trimmings of success are runner-up medals for not quite succeeding with what was intended. Real satisfaction of success is knowing what you did and how you did it. Real praise is your own humility, realising that you were fortunate to have the opportunity and skill to accomplish it.
What must you and your organisation be strategic about? Your purpose for the next five to twenty years. How far ahead should you look? That depends on where you are now.
If sixteen to twenty years old, you want to have two views of purpose:
(i) what you’d like to achieve broadly in your lifetime
(ii) what you want specifically to have achieved in five years time.
In your forties you need to have (i) above, PLUS:
(iii) what you must achieve in the next ten to fifteen years to be comfortable in old age.
In your late sixties / early seventies you require (i) above (still), PLUS
(iv) your purpose for the rest of your life.
The timings are guides. You can review your life and medium-term purposes at any time – provided you arrive at, and implement, decisions from doing so. You cannot establish a strategy if you don’t have a purpose.
The strategy for a company is not so very different from your personal strategy. However, a business or any other organisation must get its primary purpose clear from the start. That doesn’t mean it cannot change. Sometimes it must change. Xerox and Kodak could still be flourishing companies if they had paid attention to their strategy rather than to the tactics of milking what they already had. It’s a warning sign when a company begins to discuss its ‘cash cows’- the products that produce great profits with very little marketing support. They may be dying products and if the company depends on them too much it may die too.
It’s a warning sign when individuals say they don’t need to accomplish any more. Age often brings with it less good health. The people who handle it best are those who have a purpose. And when they find it, they can establish a strategy to achieve it.
Knowing our destination is more important than reaching it.
For any person or organisation, at any stage.
I’ve been through six destinations in my lifetime so far.
The seventh is keeping me busier than ever.
How many destinations have you had?
We’d be very confidential about them if you’d share some with us.
A line to email@example.com will get a reply.
17 March 2023