Four signs of a Bad Strategy.

Strategy DoctorBeing in my line of work is a bit like being a doctor. Tell people what you do and some will immediately start sharing their intimate medical details – or in my case, talking about their strategy with a hopeful “what do you think?” look in their eye. To be fair, it’s probably worse for the doctors; I actually quite enjoy the conversation.

So to save you having to ask (though as you know, you’re always welcome to drop me a line), if you want to know what I’d think of your strategy, just dust it off and run it past this list. Here are the four most common types of “Bad Strategy” that I see.

The fur coat. A fur coat strategy is little more than a set of numbers: sales, profit, market share, numbers of customers and so forth. They might go out five years and be broken down into all sorts of detail, but there’s no real, credible plan of action behind it. It’s not a strategy; it’s a statement of ambition. And an ambition without a plan is a pipedream.

Buckets of day-job: The top-team come up with a mission and some big headings for the strategy, and everyone shoe-horns whatever they’re doing into those big old buckets; trying to fit the square pegs they’re working on into the round holes they’ve been given. Look at them. Are they the fastest, most efficient way to achieve your headline goals? Or are they a just collection of broadly related “pet projects”?

Grand to-do list: Strategy is as much about deciding what you’re not going to do, as what you are going to do: prioritising a small number of big things that will make a meaningful difference. If your list of strategic projects numbers more than four or five, you’re going to struggle. If it’s in double figures, what can I say? Apart from: “good luck with that”.

Tick-box strategy: Lots of context, appendices full of analysis, SWOT and PESTL all present and correct, but no real connection between any of that and the strategy itself. I see this all the time and it’s an unfortunate side effect of the business school strategy model. Strategy starts with understanding the big questions you face, the big decisions you need to take, and the difficult conversations you need to have. By all means do research and analysis, but do it to support specific conversations and to help you make specific decisions.

Bottom Line:  There’s no point doing a strategy exercise if you’re not getting fresh views, new insights and doing something very different as a result. It’s not just a bad strategy; it’s a huge wasted opportunity.