You want me to briefly explain why your strategy sucks?

Sure, I’ll do that for you. I’m good like that.

The first reason your strategy sucks

It’s not aligned with execution.

What does this mean?

Easy: strategy is usually set at the top of an organization, by people who make more money and thus have more responsibility even though they are furthest from where the actual work gets done. (Huh?)

But once that strategy is set, defined, put into spreadsheets, and released … other human beings need to work on it. They need to, ahem, execute.

Those people who need to execute? They already had to-do lists, probably based on the last strategy release.

So unless you, ahem, communicate what’s now a priority … they’re just going to keep doing what they were doing.

Remember, “We’ve always done it this way” is a huge deal in most businesses.

Change is usually really hard in larger places. (It shouldn’t be, but usually is.)

As a result, you have to break any strategy into executable chunks, and show people “OK, you do this now.”

Otherwise nada is going to work.

The second reason your strategy sucks

Where you get advice on strategy.

Some people believe deeply in stuff like Harvard Business Review, etc.

I read it and it’s usually pretty good.

But then you come to articles like this one, and visuals like this:

Literally nothing on here makes any sense to a regular human being. You’d have to eaten every buzzword pill your company has ever handed you to understand this garbage.

“Are we investing in the capabilities that really matter to our way to play?”

What the fuck?

If someone said that to me in a meeting, I’d probably walk out.

“Does our performance management system reinforce it?”

“Ain’t that some HR thing? I make money, Bob.”

To be fair, these are decent questions. But the way they are articulated would just confuse most people. It wouldn’t create anything strategic.

The third reason your strategy sucks

You set it up and call it a “road map,” but then make said “road map” intractable.

Let’s say I am driving from NYC to Philly. Normally I’d go I-95, right? That’s my road map. But on this particular day, a giant truck full of female undergarments overturned. It’s mass hysteria. Cats and dogs living together. Well, now I’m going to use Google/Waze to find a new route. I still need to get to Philly, right? (Go Sixers.)

It’s the same in companies. If you’ve got an end goal — 12 percent growth! — and the road map isn’t actually working, you need to change the fucking road map.

What happens at most companies: “Well, the road map and its processes are set, so we’ll revisit in 18 months.”

In 18 months, 30+ people will be laid off to make that growth number. So because you don’t understand what “a map” is (it has different options you can pursue if you choose to), 30 people have no security in a capitalism.

Strategic, right?

The fourth reason your strategy sucks

It wasn’t strategic; it was an operational plan that you thought was a strategy.

The fifth reason your strategy sucks

It’s set at the level furthest from the customer, and the customer is, ahem, the person that needs to buy stuff to generate revenue.

The level that sets strategy only cares about financials. They have no idea (often) what “experience” is aside from “Did they buy? Can we tweet something about how great our features are? Is that marketing? We have a strong brand, though… right? Should we be doing something with data?”

How you fix your strategy

  • Think through goals and priorities
  • Distance it from financials
  • Now bring it back to financials
  • Think through the steps
  • Care about people
  • Articulate what roles are changing
  • Comfort those who are scared
  • Go move that ball down the field
  • Limit the buzzwords where you can, OK?

What else you got?


Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Reason 3 explains succinctly why I no longer work in Sandy relief in NYC and ended up leaving the nonprofit construction biz for a few years (hope to return soon, tho). I worked for a place that set a rigid goal of “70 rebuilt homes” in 2014. It became evident REALLY early on we didn’t have the resources to hit that #. When we routinely brought that to the attention of upper management, they refused to make adjustments. Meanwhile, rigid adherence to that figure was causing employee burnout, dissatisfaction among visiting volunteer groups/potential donors, pissed off clients, and driving possible OSHA violations. MAYBE we looked good to potential grant funders, if #s are indeed all they look at. So, to your point, yeah, there was pretty massive turnover in a short time period, because of an obsession with a number to the detriment of people.

    Reason 2—can I boil it down to “overuse of esoteric language”?—concerns me a lot. I think there are a lot of managers/”thought leaders” who get excited because they know the word “deliverable” and think that being able to use a few business jargon cliches make them better than people who understand the concepts but not the particular lingo. Elitism, basically.

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