Strategy involves uncertaintyYour strategy is wrong.

The only question is, how wrong, and in what ways?

Don’t take offense! Of course, you set your strategy based on compelling research, and robust decision-making. At the time you set it, you think it’s the right answer.

But the reality is it’s wrong. Because of course it is.

Nobody has a crystal ball. Nobody has the untrammelled ability to shape their environment. Everyone is dealing with unprecedented rates of technological change.

Given all of this, let’s take a hypothesis-driven approach to strategy. One that acknowledges that a strategy isn’t a strategy until it’s put into practice. But one that also lives harmoniously with the idea that, while we develop strategies and create plans based on our best due diligence and business judgement, it’s dangerous to blindly assume they’re some kind of locked-in, infallible handbook for success.

So, what does a hypothesis-driven approach to setting and planning around strategies look like?

  1. You make assumptions clear – so when they change, you can get an idea how the strategy has to change.
  2. You recognize the dependencies inherent to the strategy.
  3. Your plan leaves room – for error, for opportunities, for faster or slower organizational learning, for speedbumps.
  4. You treat the plan as a living document, not one that’s etched in stone to the last detail. Big elements shouldn’t move without serious discussions that recognize either the world changed, or you previously made a bad decision (and the latter should get a serious post-mortem). But you have to be able to zig and zag as you go.
  5. You know what success looks like. And that means setting metrics, and reporting on them. At the strategic level, metrics have to address outcomes, not just outputs.

And what does this not look like?

  1. Blindly implementing without assessing effectiveness. This is like a scientist conducting an experiment without recording the results.
  2. Sticking to the plan no matter what. The zombie apocalypse could come, and you decide the plan is still the plan. This is how things end badly for lobsters.
  3. The board holding the CEO or ED accountable for a fixed plan to the nth degree of specificity, regardless of shifting conditions.
  4. Likewise, reinventing the plan each year, without assessing whether the hypotheses inherent in it were accurate. If you don’t look at how good your guesses are, you don’t know when you need to change the way you arrive at those guesses.

Even for a small organization, strategy is complex. We live in a challenging, changing world. (If you were saying 10 years ago that cybersecurity would emerge by 2018 as a critical issue for any organization, can we get a coffee sometime so I can hear what you’re predicting for the next decade? Because you’re obviously good at this.) Let’s try our best to let go of the notion of infallibility and embrace the messiness and organic-ness of a good strategy process.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help you set strategies that are robust and resilient, please get in touch.

Photo by Fredrick Kearney Jr on Unsplash