Strategy

by Doreen Yarnold

Common questions

  1. What is strategy?
  2. What has strategy got to do with me and how can I use the principles in my role as a manager?
  3. What questions should I be asking of my boss about strategy?
  4. What about my people, how does strategy involve them?
  5. Why is it that whenever big changes are afoot in our organisation there seems to be a ‘strategy’ that runs alongside it?
  6. Why should I bother with strategy?
  7. I’ve been asked to write an outline project plan for how my department will handle the move to new premises we are moving to in six months time. Am I being asked for a strategy?
  8. Can more than one strategy be operating within a business at one time?

 

1. What is strategy?

Strategy should be a catalyst for change within organisations. Strategic analysis is the platform for creating the broad categories of action required to get a team, department or organisation from where it is today to where it wants to be at some point in the future, in pursuit of its vision. It provides direction and common purpose.

Strategy is not planning! Planning is an important part of the strategic process, but it is not strategy. Planning is a distinct and separate activity that should only be undertaken once strategy has been decided. In other words, this is where we are today; this is where we aspire to be tomorrow, and so our strategy for getting there might be a new facility, a new xyz product, an innovative marketing approach of abc and an investment in pqr specialism for the first year of operation. Only once all this is decided can the planning and budgeting activities that underpin this strategy begin.

A common misconception is that strategy is only for directors and senior managers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strategy is the remit of all managers. If the overall vision and objectives are cascaded right throughout the organisation, then everything that happens at grass roots level should support it.

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2. What has strategy got to do with me and how can I use the principles in my role as a manager?

Strategic thinking and effective execution are two of the most important skills a manager can possess in today’s rapidly changing world. It cannot be acceptable for any business to employ managers who know where they want to get their team or department, but have little or no clue as to what is required to get there. Consider this...

If you don’t have clarity around what you need to do to achieve your contribution to the overall high level business objectives, how effective can you ever hope to be in your role and, more importantly, what value are you really adding to your business, your people and yourself?

If, as a manager, you have had no involvement in strategy, this is akin to saying that you have no involvement in what your business is trying to achieve.

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3. What questions should I be asking of my boss about strategy?

If it is evident that your boss has a strategic plan for the organisation (or department or section), then it is probable that you will already be involved and consulted about how you and your team contribute to it, and what part you play in its execution. If this is happening, you will probably also have a fair understanding of strategy and how it applies in your part of the organisation.

Conversely, it is not uncommon for senior managers and sometimes directors to have an unclear perspective on where they want the organisation to be and how they intend to get there. Often, they have some inkling of the former, but will be oblivious to the latter, somehow believing that middle managers have worked it out for themselves and will be getting on with it!

Consequently, the organisation fumbles along, everyone working hard, but often not towards the same thing, let alone the right thing. If this sounds like your organisation, plan how you might broach this with your boss. It is likely that if you have access to this resource, so will they. A constructive approach might be to say that you found the section on strategy interesting and would like to work through some of the exercises. Ask if you can see information on the organisation’s vision, mission, purpose, values and high level business objectives to see how what you do relates to them. He may already have this information, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t. If he agrees to get the information, suggest that perhaps you work on it together, to review current objectives, refine as appropriate and gain buy-in from the team. Remember, if you don’t ask, he can’t say yes!

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4. What about my people, how does strategy involve them?

If you keep in mind that strategy is about moving from where you are now to where you want/need to be, it is immediately evident that strategy is 100 per cent about you and your team.

Just as your departmental objectives need to support the vision and higher level objectives, so your team’s objectives need to reflect departmental objectives. Anything they are doing or are involved in that doesn’t support this is distracting and a waste of valuable resources; it may well be keeping them busy, but it is unlikely to deliver what you need!

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5. Why is it that whenever big changes are afoot in our organisation there seems to be a ‘Strategy’ that runs alongside it?

Strategic approaches are not just reserved for big events or changes, but change cannot happen effectively if strategies are not in place to deliver them. If you’re changing the pay structure of (say) just one team, you’ll require a mini-strategy; you’ll make some key decisions about what the overall pay structure would be and then put a brief plan together that covered all the key elements.

Big change, however, such as changing the pay structure of the whole business, would require a more comprehensive strategy, because it’s big enough to go badly wrong if not well thought through, planned and executed. It will also have more component parts, considerations and dependencies. When a big change event is being considered, there are many variables that require ‘bigger picture’ thinking to pull all the threads together – a strategy. Change, if handled badly, can have devastating consequences for any organisation; if it is a big change and no strategy has been formulated to see it through, it is liable to fail.

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6. Why should I bother with strategy?

  • You will understand more clearly where you want your part of the organisation to be in the future (for example, in one, two or three years), what you want to it to achieve, and how it aligns to the key objectives of the organisation.
  • Your plans will be broken down into short-, medium- and long-term perspectives.
  • You will have involved your people from the beginning, consulting and involving them at all key points.
  • You will have ensured that your team have bought into short-, medium-, and long-term objectives and that their own objectives are aligned to those of both your department and the overall organisation.
  • You will know that every activity you and your team are involved in is 100 per cent aligned to the overall business objectives and vision.
  • Your department will stand out as a high performing part of the organisation.
  • Your heightened focus will build confidence, self-worth and high self-esteem for your team.

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7. I’ve been asked to write an outline project plan for how my department will handle the move to new premises we are moving to in six months’ time. Am I being asked for a strategy?

No, although the key principles are the same. The key difference is that the move to new premises of the whole business is what requires a strategy that will be driven by whoever owns that particular project. What you are being asked to do is to formulate your department’s part – its implementation plan – in the overall strategy.

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8. Can more than one strategy be operating within a business at one time?

Definitely! There can (and should) be a number of strategies operating at any given time. The key is that they all need to align to the overall vision, to the higher level objectives and to each other. Imagine if the production strategy didn’t align with the marketing strategy: this could result in the business not producing the volume or type of products needed by the marketing department.

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