Be brave, own your strategy!
Editorial

Be brave, own your strategy!

In this all-important part of the job, the decision is ultimately up to you.

HSBC recently announced it plans to remain in its London HQ rather than moving to Hong Kong.

The decision was made after the banking giant spent £30 million on outside advisors to help it reach this decision.

Does spending £30 million make their decision ‘more right?’ Of course not. Strategy doesn’t work like that.

Since the late 20th century, business has employed strategy as a means to get a decisive and lasting result. But that is not possible – indeed the idea of decisive victory is an illusion.

If you have success with some great products or an innovative business model, it doesn’t mean you will stay on top forever. Just check out a tool called Downround Tracker that provides running detail on the current round of failures and disappointments among internet start-ups.

Or remember when Microsoft was the biggest company on the planet and Apple was sinking fast? The supremacy of Bill Gates’s company seemed assured at the height of the desktop era. Then the iPod was launched, smartphones arrived and the world turned.

Having a strategy is about trying to work out a sensible way to get from one square to the next. With each square, a new set of problems has to be figured out, before you can move on. This process never ends. If you only have a strategy that starts with objectives and works backwards, then sooner or later you’ll be found out.

It’s better to think of a strategy as a long-running soap opera, with all its twists and turns. Unless you are willing to adapt your strategy as you go along, your strategy is a delusion and you are heading for trouble.

No wonder a recent study by Paul Leinwand, Cesare Mainardi and Art Kleiner discovered leaders who are good at strategy are nearly always also good at execution — to the extent that making a distinction between the two is a total waste of time.

Good strategy is not the product of hours of research and modelling, leading to an almost-perfect conclusion. No, it’s the result of thinking about what it would take to get what you want – and then figuring out whether it’s realistic to try.

Sure, making decisions about unknowable stuff is scary. But fear is a big part of strategy-making – and, as it’s an ongoing challenge, it’s one you need to get used to.

By all means bring people in to help you set out the puzzle and find a solution, but when they’re gone, you and your strategy will still be there, sometimes up against it, facing reality. The key choices of what to do next, and how to do it, are yours and yours alone. Own them.

Andy Pemberton Director Furthr Ltd
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