The more I speak to business owners and leaders about strategy, the more confusion and misunderstandings I hear from them. Like the mysterious unicorns and aliens, there are a lot of assumptions, speculation and beliefs that just don’t prove to be true.

That is why I was pleased to see Roger L. Martin’s refreshing article in last month’s Harvard Business Review titled, “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning”. Martin makes several points about how business leaders fail in strategic planning because they pursue “budget thinking”, overly detailed planning, and resource-based approaches. He argues that these traps move strategic thinking into our “comfort zones” instead of recognizing that strategy is about making uncomfortable decisions that take our firms into an uncertain future.

Martin suggests three rules to help keep strategic thinking on track:

  1. Keep the strategy statement simple.
  2. Recognize that strategy is not about perfection.
  3. Make the logic explicit.

We have imbedded these rules in our services here at Results for the past 19 years. They translate nicely into our strategy process and the Results Playbook. In addition to these rules I would add the following guidelines for strategic thinking:

  1. Execution trumps strategy – remember that a mediocre strategy executed flawlessly will always outperform a flawless strategy executed in a mediocre way.
  2. Strategy needs frequent consideration – strategic thinking is not just something that is done once a year around budget time. Many businesses have fallen into the trap of aligning strategic planning and budgeting, and therefore only do it once a year. Annually is too infrequent for strategic review and reset. With the pace of change today business strategy should be refreshed every quarter.
  3. Strategy is about saying “no” – sure we make decisions about the direction and priorities we will pursue. But it is just as important to recognize what we will not pursue. In cluttered, competitive industries the winners are often those who choose a very narrow target market or brand position rather than trying to be all things to all people. Likewise, each quarter firms are better off focusing on 1 to 3 strategic priorities (change projects) rather than 5 or more.

When business leaders put these guidelines and rules into place it has proven to deliver consistent and superior results. And that’s no mystery!

The Results Canada Team
Article by Tim O’Connor
* image from