Demystifying Strategy in 7 short paragraphs

Strategy is something that people spend a lot of time talking about and numerous books have been written about it. Yet, it is something that many people don’t understand well.

When asked to define strategy, many people either get stuck or give a long complex response that demonstrates they don’t know how to express what strategy is. Often they confuse strategy and tactics.

Strategy small

Simply put, strategy is a plan to achieve a long-term goal. This means strategy requires two things – a long-term goal and a plan to achieve it. In other words: “where we want to go and how we want to get there”.

There is nothing mysterious about it.

“Increase sales by 20%” is not a strategy – it’s just an objective. The important part that many leaders forget is the “how”. If your strategy doesn’t spell out the “how” …you’ve an issue.

When it comes to crafting strategy there are many different approaches. They range from the upfront analysis approach of what Mintzberg, Ahlstrand and Lampel call the “design school” to the “learning school” that involves learning as you go and modifying tactics – which focus on the immediate – in much the same way as a Mississippi Steamboat Captain did while navigating to the sea down an ever changing river.

The best strategies tend to result when leaders combine approaches, using some analysis on how to best leverage their organization’s capabilities while retaining the flexibility to allow strategic learning to influence strategy. Accordingly, excellent organizations should review and refine their thinking to ensure that realized strategy doesn’t overlook any strategic learning.

For more information on the various schools see Strategy Safari by Mintzberg et al. …it gives a comprehensive overview of the various approaches and their pros and cons.