Strategy: Can I Make a Confession?

I started my career with two brilliant bosses. Kev was the likeable, hilarious, energetic problem-solver. Shaun, the strategic, planned, and measured delivery-machine. To be honest, both were great communicators and wonderful mentors – just with very different routes to the target. I learned from each in equal measure.

Next month I’m facilitating a strategy day for a client team. In sync, we have just had the third of three strategy days at Interactive Workshops over the last month. There are two parts to strategy:

  1. A long-term aim
  2. A plan of action

For those of us that lead a team there is a third component: emotion. We want to connect the passions of the people in our business to create engagement, meaningful work, and a connection; your success liked to our success.

And the confession? To be honest, I find strategy really hard. My personality isn’t driven by setting long-term aims, and nor do I like following plans. In essence, I’m a player not a manager. I think deep down I have a similar DNA to Kev. But I know that in a senior leading role I can’t use that as an excuse. The strategy is a tool, a requirement to give myself and the team direction and stability. I’m hoping that operating outside my comfort zone will be a great opportunity to develop.

Research results

Strategy researcher William Schiemann’s charts [below, created using the results of a Metrus Group survey], are helpful. Schiemann identifies six methods of measuring company strategy, the absence of which, he claims, can cause organisational misalignment. They show that, whilst 65 per cent of the employees surveyed agreed their company has a strategy, only 11 per cent agreed that this is measured with all of the six essential methods (including the agreed-on strategy): strategic measures or a balanced scorecard, linked to business functions, with targets, linked to individual accountabilities and rewards. Schiemann believes that while the absence of each method on its own wouldn’t be problematic enough to damage organizational alignment, it is the cumulative effect of each gap that can lead to overall misalignment.

From Performance Management: Putting Research into Action (2009) page 53, Figure 2.2 “Why Strategies and Behavior Disconnect: Percentage of Rater Agreement.” The percentages represent the cumulative agreement of raters for each element and for the ones above that element.

Strategy vs. story

In asking a team to align themselves with a vision, plan or strategy we can borrow from storytelling. Every story, to be a story, requires a predicament (according to Robert McKee, a guru of story theory). A predicament creates a dynamic tension. An unknown. The key piece of the puzzle is wrapped up in uncertainty. The reason sport is so big in entertainment? There’s always a chance. Big vs. little. Underdog. Battle of equals. Recovering from injury. One more fight. Breakthrough talent. Title decider. Bragging rights. Everything about sports entertainment points to this engaging, decisive unknown factor, and a resolution of the predicament.

For the client strategy day I’m going to use declining relevance as a predicament generator. Declining relevance is what happened to the landline, desktop computer, Nokia. And before that: stone tools, steam trains, the wireless.

“What you have now will fade. So how are you going to start creating now what your market place needs next?”  Declining relevance is me saying to a client that everything they have built to date is fantastic, but in three to five years’ time it might feel jaded. That their systems, processes and people have the potential to improve, but also fade.

Jonna Sercombe holding up a placard with a lightbulb icon

Power of imagination

The strategist ponders empathetically a future state, and then creates a plan of action to provide the opportunity to be playing in that arena. It’s an entrepreneurial mindset. An example today is the car market. What is the end state of electric? What will the customers want? Charging points? Replaceable batteries? Short-term car leasing? Car trains? Autonomous vehicles? Or do they want things like protocols: is the game changer a law stating that all charging sockets must be compatible? That all batteries must comply with a shape, size and standard so that they are interchangeable across brands?

So if you run a team, you’ll need a strategy. Once you have that aim you can test it to see if it’s really an engaging, dynamic, difficult-to-achieve goal. Something that Shaun would be proud of. And Kev knocks down walls to deliver. Difficult. Requiring change. And uncertain.

We can then take six further steps to close the gap to individuals:

  1. Develop a clear, agreed-on vision and strategy.
  2. Translate the vision and strategy into clear, understandable goals and measures.
  3. Include and build passion for the vision, strategy, and goals among those who are implementing them.
  4. Provide clarity regarding individual roles and requirements and link them across the organisation.
  5. Make sure that people have the talent, information, and resources to reach the goals.
  6. Give clear, timely feedback on goal attainment.
  7. Provide meaningful incentives to encourage employees to develop or deploy sufficient capabilities to achieve the goals.

My manifesto

A strategy is not 10 per cent growth on last year [we’ve gone for 100 per cent].

A strategy is not adjusting your operating model [we’ve torn ours down and rebuilt it].

A strategy is not hiring someone new [we’ve gone for eight to twelve new team members].

A strategy is not giving people a chance when they are ready [we promote just-before, rather than just-after, the right moment].

A strategy is not a two per cent pay raise [most of our team now have a mechanism to earn 50-100 per cent more than they did last year].


A strategy is not something you know you can do [honestly, part of me is terrified, but in a good way].