Strategy – what are you talking about?

I’ve been writing a paper about strategy and strategic intelligence. When talking about it to people I have found it fascinating the assumptions they make about the word strategy. I have had some amusing and bemusing conversations which might have been less frustrating had we established from the outset that we were talking about the same thing!

Some people assumed ‘strategy’ meant strategic planning and talked about budgets and resource allocations, and those endless meetings where people jostle for position or defend their patch.

Some people assumed strategy meant strategic direction and talked about maps and getting to where their company intended to go

Yet others assumed it meant strategy making and talked about discussing the very nature of their business and visions for the future, or its position in the marketplace.

Any and all of these perspectives might be valid. They fall into the broad field of strategic management which encompasses a continuous cycle of strategy formulation, strategic planning, strategy implementation and strategy evaluation or review.

I have been reading Henry Mintzberg’s work on strategy (and there is a lot of it). He and some colleagues developed five definitions for strategy:

1. Plan – something you design and is forward looking.

2. Pattern – something that emerges and you understand it as you look back over past actions.

3. Position – something that you determine about your company in relation to the outside world, e.g., the competition.

4. Perspective – something that you understand about your company in relation to its internal world, e.g., its values or culture.

5. Ploy – something designed to outmaneuver or outfox your competition.

None, they concluded, is the absolute ‘right’ one. A single definition could describe your approach to strategy or a combination of them might do the trick.

Whichever way you look at it, you need to be ‘strategically intelligent’ about it, reflect on your assumptions and those of the people around you, and decide what you are actually talking about.

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