Monday Jan 17, 2022

Strategy: probably the most used and misunderstood word in business

How many times have you heard someone talk about successful business strategies or ‘taking a strategic approach’? What do you think they really mean by the use of the word strategy? Most of the people who use it try to convey the fact that they have thought a little more about the subject than usual, that they have looked a little further ahead than usual. If a consultant uses it, be very careful. Strategy costs more than mere ideas or tactics. How much would you pay for consultants who have ‘turned some ideas around’ or ‘have come up with some tactics that they think might work’? It depends on how good they are. But if they come back with “strategic business advice,” you expect it to be very good and, of course, very expensive.

Why expensive? Because hopefully a consultant or colleague has used some kind of intellectually robust framework, tested their assumptions, and developed more than one solution that they rigorously evaluates before making their strategic recommendation. This takes time and experience, and both are expensive. Suppose they’ve done all of this – does that make it strategic business advice rather than tactical advice?

Not according to the dictionary. The dictionary definition of strategy is very clear and military. He defines strategy as “the art of war: arranging the troops, etc. in such a way as to impose on the enemy the conditions for the fight (time and place) preferred by oneself”. If we accept that business is indeed a war – you develop successful business strategies because you define success as beating the competition – there is no reason why this definition of the overused word strategy is inappropriate for business strategy. . It requires all that planning and testing of the assumptions already discussed. Certainly some kind of solid and very honest intellectual framework will help develop and evaluate options. Even the lazy use of the word strategy, giving it a bit more thought and anticipation, would be implicit in the military dictionary definition. But there is an additional dimension to the actual strategy. It requires you to do all of this and come up with something that changes the rules in your favor; in other words, it requires creativity.

And there is another aspect of this more demanding type of strategic thinking. It’s about people and their behavior. To ‘deploy the troops’ and change the rules, you must understand how people work. If being creative involves changing behaviors, then you need to understand how those behaviors were formed in the first place and how they could be changed if you want a successful business strategy.

Before saving the dictionary (the definition of strategy above was taken from the Oxford English Dictionary) just go to tactics. You will find that the definition is exactly the same as for strategy with an addition. The tactic involves the most important stage of implementation, putting the strategy into practice. So it turns out that far from being the least important and least valuable tactics than strategy, they are actually the most valuable of all. A solid strategic plan that is successfully implemented includes, in fact, requires tactics.

The use and overuse of strategy in business is often a pretentious claim by people who do not really understand what they are talking about. It certainly doesn’t mean thinking a little more about something or thinking a little longer in the long term. It absolutely demands a thorough and honest evaluation of your assumptions and options. At the risk of being melodramatic, careless thinking about military strategy costs people their lives. In business, you just waste time and money. Strategic thinkers will, of course, use frameworks based on their experience. They will break down a problem so they can think about each component of it, but they will seek to change the rules, not just apply them. And the true strategist understands that strategies are directed at people and changing their behavior. Your strategic business advice will be based on an understanding of human behavior. Just like in war, a strategy not only gets the job done, it allows you to beat the competition, deliver higher returns than ever before, win, and win big with the least expenditure of resources.

So whether you’re carrying out a brand planning strategy, a new business launch strategy, or any other type of strategy, remember what this really means and remember to include the tactics that are, if not, most important. Then you can charge accordingly.

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