What a Good Strategy Means and Why You Need ItAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.” ~ Lee Bolman.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, a strategy is a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry, or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations.
A strategy is a cohesive response to an important challenge, and defining a strategy fundamentally consists on discovering the critical factors to the situation and designing a way of coordinating and concentrating your actions to deal with those factors.
A lot of people, and a lot of companies too, mistake strategy with a simple decision-making or the definition of a goal. However, an strategy without actions to take isn’t a strategy. The critical element of any strategy is the definition of a set of immediate, feasible and plausible actions.
Bad strategies — personal, in business, in government — are more common than we’d like to admit. It’s easier to define missions and goals that sound good and do not provoke negative thoughts, than to really analyze the obstacles in front of us and design an appropriate response to overcome them.
When I talk about bad strategies I don’t mean strategies that don’t achieve the desired outcome. Strategies are defined with the information and the resources available at a certain moment and, because of that, a strategy can be well defined and not be successful, due to the great amount of external variables that can’t be controlled.
A bad strategy is one that does not clearly recognize the challenge and the threats, one that uses fancy words to mask the lack of arguments, one that is made up of “wishes” instead of plans to overcome the obstacles, one that defines wrong objectives because it prefers to “look the other way” instead of facing the situation.
A bad strategy isn’t just the absence of a good strategy but rather one that has a life of its own. A bad strategy dramatically affects the effectiveness of the person or the organization, and it can end someone’s career, a business, or cause thousands of unnecessary deaths when a pandemic takes place.
Establishing a strategy means making choices. To achieve something you have to say no to a lot of possible interests. A strategy not only defines what a person or organization will focus on, but also what they will give up, at least for the time being. That is why it’s so difficult to define a good strategy. Some things have to be sacrificed in favour of others.
According to Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, a good strategy has coherence, coordinated actions, policies and resources to achieve an end. The core of a good strategy contains three elements:
- Diagnosis. Explains the nature of the challenge, identifying the critical aspects of the situation.
- Guidance policy. It is a general approach to overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
- A set of coherent actions, designed to implement the guidance policy.
If you are a GTD (Getting Things Done) practitioner, this methodology provides you with the tools to define and execute a good strategy. Once the diagnosis has been made, the Six Levels of Perspective model allows you to build the guiding policy at the higher levels (purpose, vision, objectives and areas of responsibility) and a set of coherent actions at the lower ones (projects and actions).
If you find yourself in a problematic situation, facing an important challenge, or simply wanting to progress in your life in a certain direction, think strategically. The situation is not going to fix itself.