Strategy is a dance, not a race

It's no secret that in today's world, things change quickly. No industry is immune to disruption. New ideas on how to work, what customers expect, and what great looks like, continue to change. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your three or five year strategic plans should be thrown out the window. After all, if industry rapidly changes, why bother with long term strategic business planning?

To be honest, if your strategic plan leaves no room to ‘do strategy’, then it should be thrown out.

Strategic plans are good at all that long-term vision, strategic objectives and measures of success stuff. They’re a snapshot of a past and present business environment you’re operating in. They paint the picture of what we think commercial success, and the road to get there, looks like. But, life is never a straight and simple road. Things will inevitably come up that we never anticipated, and a strong, agile strategic plan will give you the right tools to respond to it.

Which is where the ‘do strategy’ comes in.

Strategy is the series of moves and counter moves you make to respond to your environment and succeed. But it's not a race, it’s a dance that you do on a crowded dance floor, where the other dancers are your competitors, customers, staff, assets, suppliers. There are all sorts of other feet that you can tread on or that can tread on you. The lights go on and off, it’s loud, there’s a lot of shuffling to the music. Doing strategy is being light-footed and responsive to your environment, choreographing new steps into an existing routine, including others in your moves. Don’t be the one flailing your arms alone or standing stone-faced in the middle of the dance floor. Great strategy is when you’re Travolta in Pulp Fiction, with others looking at you to set confident, unique and well-executed moves and pivots – a dance, in time with the beat, in harmony with the music.

So how can you make sure you ‘do strategy’? Well, your strategic plan needs to clearly articulate your strategic goals. And to create room for flexibility and fresh thinking on how to get there, it also needs to find ways to:

  • keep the ideas coming: things change, new ideas are always coming up, so be open to new ways to achieve strategic goals and don’t allow yourself to get wedded to ideas that are no longer relevant
  • be responsive to competitive forces: your strategic plan is not your 'one move to win'. No good competitor will remain still while you deliver on your strategic plan, so you must have an approach to respond to competitive forces as you progress on your journey
  • revisit strategy constantly and regularly: don’t limit strategic thinking to only once every three to five years. Your goals may remain the same but, as an executive team, you need to discuss how to readjust your moves and create new steps, finesse your choreography to achieve your goals

To do strategy, you need to build an organisational culture that’s actively engaged in discussing what is happening around it, discussing what that means for achieving strategic goals, and to be okay asking the hard questions. And whatever you do, don’t assume that the frequency with which you ‘do strategy’ is determined by your industry’s rate of change. That won’t leave room to innovate internally and create better ways to serve customers. Don’t force your organisation to be a slave to the ‘industry speed’. If you do, then by your own strategic design, you’d be making room for disruptors like Uber or AirBnB to enter your market at an innovator’s speed.

Strategy is a dance. Keep your eyes on what the other dancers are doing, move to the rhythm, keep your ears attuned to the tempo changes. Work together with your partners and, when you’re on that dance floor, it’s up to you whether you’re going to lead, follow or trip over.

WRITTEN BY TIM MORRIS, ENGAGEMENT MANAGER

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