Purists at boutique strategy consulting firms will tell you that there is a right way to develop a corporate strategy and a wrong way.
From their point of view, the right way means taking three to four months, spending consulting fees of about US$1 million and employing Ivy-League educated talent.
Without that kind of firepower, a company is wasting its time, they say. While this kind of thinking has been deflated by our recessionary times, there are other strict strategists within Jamaican companies who argue that you cannot have a plan without doing customer research, long-term plans and the balanced scorecard or a four-day retreat.
A belief in these sorts of absolutes makes it easy for companies to waste time, money and energy in putting together 150-page reports that no one reads and only a few understand. They miss the point.
All strategic documents are meant to guide new actions and behaviour that drive bottom-line results. Without this last link to real people, who must act differently, the document is a waste of time.
Many companies have their priorities reversed, however. Like the MBA programmes they were trained in, leaders place too little emphasis on the real challenge — implementation.
When executives have been taught how to use a number of fancy analyses, they spend too much time on this aspect of their strategy. They need to focus less effort on perfecting the strategy document and more time figuring out how to convince employees to use it.
Here are some of the indicators of a strategy process that is too focused on getting an 'A' in analytic quality and not focused enough on mobilising human resources.
1. We need to get the right research.
Teams that believe that they can't develop a strategy before completing an expensive research study are wrong. As a consultant, I can testify to the fact that managers already have a lot of the data needed, and it only needs to be extracted using the right questions. That's not to say that the need for quality data should be abandoned. Instead, use new data to clarify the finer points of the story that the already-existing data is telling.
2. We need to find enough time
I take the opposite point of view. You need to develop the best strategy with the time that you have available. Whether you have 10 minutes or 10 months is a given, and the more important question is how can it be maximised? In other words, you need to find enough of a strategy to fit into the time that you have. If you only have the time for one day of research, make the best of it and keep going.
3. We need to do it only when we can afford it
In similar fashion, a strategy can be assembled at either little or great cost, and it's best to maximise the budget that's available regardless of its size.
4. We need the right location
I have seen clients book the venue for their planning retreats before deciding who will attend or what the purpose or agenda might be. Successful strategies can be put together on plane trips, on the beach or in the cafeteria. The perfect location doesn't matter when the focus is on assembling an implementable guide to action.
5. We don't have the right people
As long as the CEO/MD is fully engaged, then all others become useful, but not essential. That's tough for some to hear, including other executives and consultants like myself, who feel that we are indispensable. My experience tells me that we aren't and are only useful if our involvement is carefully managed. Many retreats, for example, are dead from the start because too many people are involved.
RULE OF THUMB
The best rule of thumb appears to be a minimalist strategy. Use as few resources as possible - time, money, people, etc - and maximise the experience so that the result is easy to communicate and implement.
My observation over time is that our executives have become better skilled at strategic thinking, but no better at implementation. It's clear that they need to focus their energy on the latter.
The fact is, business continues whether you have a $5 or $100m strategy. The actions your company takes are driven by employees' habits.
A new strategy that lacks an investment in changing individual behaviour, guarantees that business as usual will prevail.
Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting.firstname.lastname@example.org