Strategy is often misunderstood as a planning activity — sometimes even as a kind of “theory” — carried out by executives who subsequently expect managers to “execute” it. This model causes numerous disconnects and often results in less-than-optimal results.
My strategy work acknowledges that strategy is a collaborative effort that should involve participants from different levels and business functions in an organization. I believe that strategy and execution should be connected, continuous, and integrated, and that executives, managers, and employees should co-own them.
When working on strategy engagements with my clients, I draw on Nilofer Merchant’s QuEST process framework (either explicitly or implicitly). It 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. While none of this is revolutionary, it encourages a certain discipline and focus — and importantly 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 am able to take on different roles: futures researcher, instigator, facilitator, strategist, and wordsmith (to name a few). But I resist the kind of strategy consulting engagement that feels like an elaborate ritual performance for (or by) the executive team. That path may result in beautiful diagrams and slides but often meets with resistance afterwards and is hard to put into practice.
I work to document each stage of the strategy process to ensure that the team’s decisions (and supporting arguments) are captured, ensuring traceability and sustainability. A job well done minimizes or even eliminates the “translation” and “motivation” problems of typical strategy work and makes sense to everyone, connecting purpose to action.
A good strategy is one that all stakeholders — board, executives, and employees — agree on and know how to execute.