Why are we so focused on strategy?
You would be amazed to discover how often people talk about strategy and tactics nowadays. Yes, you read that right. These terms have become so important that it would be impossible not to encounter them if we talk about business, political and military conflicts, last night’s match, the lottery or mobile games. But aren’t we all a little too focused on having a good strategy?
Now, let’s talk business, because last night’s game was just another Italian goalless draw – I am not a fan of tie games, especially if they end nil-nil. And I am not crazy about the lottery either, probably because I never win. More so, this article won’t bear down on the rest of the above-mentioned either.
But wait, did I say win? Of course I said win, since we are talking about strategy, remember? Become the market leader, maximize customer value, expand sales to the global marketplace, align incentives and staff rewards with performance, improve internal communications – these are all about winning. No matter your current position, you aim to win from now on.
The vocabulary of business
This strive for finding winning strategies has definitely impacted the vocabulary we use, especially the one used in a business context. It is just like having a very nice and expensive watch on your wrist – your audience might believe you are left-handed (or worse, one-handed), given your gestures while speaking. You act consciously or unconsciously, with or without intent. Likewise, sometimes we are speaking learnedly, oftentimes we are not aware of the words we are using, and between whiles we add a strategic something just to sound good.
Speaking of vocabulary – we often use a strategic one and we know that there are a plenty of vocabulary strategies. We work for companies that are strategy-focused, organizations that have a strategy for growth or a strategy for creating value. Thus, they have strategic priorities and strategic budget planning.
Whether reactive or proactive, it doesn’t matter anymore when they go for strategic budget cutting. It might not be the case with your firm, but some of the companies out there have a Chief Strategy Officer or even a Chief Global Strategist. They are true strategic leaders, without a doubt. People and companies with unique strategic styles and unexampled strategic cultures rub salt in low performers’ wounds.
Your CEO, whether a florist or engineer in his beginning, is keen to divide-and-conquer and has spent years reading Sun Tzu. He is fascinated about the misconception strategy and doesn’t want to hear about an exit strategy. The very one that hired you for your strategic thinking – which is a must-have attribute, whether you are a janitor or research analyst – follows holily the principles of strategic management.
Strategizing – more than meets the eye
Besides that, some other CEOs burned the midnight oil and now want to align several KPIs to strategy in order to obtain better business results. They now know the difference between strategic and operational KPIs, started using strategy maps and the strategic horizons are now visible. And they also know that failures occur when units within the organization are not aligned with an overall strategy.
On the same train of thought, heads of state and government have strategies and tactics for winning (not only electoral votes, but international disputes and prizes) – from military strategies and strategies against terrorism to family planning strategies and even eHealth strategies. As a result, the humble taxpayer, proud as punch of the prosperous and super safe country he lives in, doesn’t need to worry anymore about his future – but still has to develop a strategy to avoid spending both Christmas and New Year’s Eve with his parents.
Now, I have some explaining to do. No, not about the winter holidays and parents part, but on the subject of strategy. We don’t talk just to sound good, right? There has to be something more to it.
Michael Eugene Porter, a Harvard University professor and author of numerous strategy-related articles (mostly known for his Five Forces Analysis, a very popular strategic planning tool nowadays), believes that competitive strategy is about being different. I couldn’t agree more with him. Moreover, you would expect him, a Harvard professor, to possibly use an overly complicated vocabulary when describing his subject of interest, but instead he went right to the heart of the matter using one simple, straightforward sentence.
In the same plain English, Frank Herbert Muir – a famous writer and story-teller – made the statement that I like best: Strategy is buying a bottle of fine wine when you take a lady out for dinner. Tactics is getting her to drink it. It really is on every (business)man’s meat!
Jesting apart, I don’t want to respond to every question, demand or world dilemma by quoting a famous writer – having a good memory doesn’t make you intelligent. When I think about strategy, I think about birth, evolution (or growth) and decline – the major stages in the human or organizational (and even a national) life cycle. Having a good strategy guarantees that you will spend enough time during the stage in-between.
Thus, why are we so obsessed with strategy? It’s simple – because it matters. What I believe that matters even more is to know where you’re headed and to set realistic goals, whether you are an individual, a company or country.
It’s good to dream big, but a baby will first crawl, then walk. Walk, then run. I know that millennials will say they ran the marathon while they were still in diapers because I was at the starting line too – in diapers, of course – but I changed my mind and returned to my baby bottle. Got the idea? Good. Start winning!