My work in strategy acknowledges that strategy is a collaborative effort that should involve participants from different levels and business functions in an organization. Too often, strategy is a planning activity — sometimes even understood as a kind of “theory”— carried out by executives, who then expect managers to “execute” it. This model causes numerous disconnects and often results in less-than-optimal results. I believe that strategy and execution should be connected, continuous, and integrated, and that both parts of the organization should co-own them.
When working on strategy engagements with for-profit enterprises, I draw on Nilofer Merchant‘s QuEST process framework (book; chapter excerpt). QuEST (Question, Envision, Select, Take) provides a sensible, detailed, and effective way of engaging an organization’s reality by asking questions, envisioning possible options, selecting the best ones, and distributing the resulting priorities among the team. I’m also watching with interest the Brightline Initiative, which puts forward a similar well-argued set of principles. While none of this is revolutionary, it demands a certain discipline and focus — and doesn’t allow a group of executives to set out a “theoretical” approach while leaving the rest up to everyone else to figure out.
When I work on strategy assignments, I sometimes take the role of facilitator. At other times, I help with specific capabilities — for example, by bringing a customer or user research perspective into the discussion. I also work to document each stage of the strategy process to ensure that the team’s decisions (and supporting arguments) are captured to ensure traceability.
A good strategy is one that all stakeholders — advisory board, executives, and employees — are bought into and know how to execute. Good strategy minimizes the “translation problems” that frequently get in the way of being successful.
I also like to work with nonprofits. While I believe the QuEST strategy process framework or Brightline also work in the nonprofit sector, I am also familiar with the SPiN (Strategic Planning in Nonprofits) framework from Washington Nonprofits.