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The Top 7 Delusions Of Strategy :

Updated: Jun 16, 2018

Let’s not beat about the bush. Most corporate strategic efforts aren’t being realised successfully. Most leaders aren’t consumed with organisational strategy but are instead overwhelmed with managing day-to-day operational challenges. Most strategies aren’t distinctive and created from the outside-in but rather from the inside-out.

Most organisations aren’t really customer-centric but are mainly product, sales and marketing driven. Most workforces aren’t engaged but are paralysed by inertia and collectively withdrawing extra energies. Most values and desired behaviours aren’t being demonstrated consistently and enduringly in organisations today. What’s going on?

Simply put, many of our businesses seem trapped in deluded beliefs when it comes to the much-exploited term of strategy. Somewhere along the line strategy hijacked itself to become little more than a box-ticking exercise failing to take almost any organisation forward. The delusions of strategy that are holding back many of today’s businesses are explored in this article together with ‘simple’ solutions. The top seven strategy delusions outlined here relate to embedded beliefs about change, customers, planning, people, communication, behaviours and leadership.

One: The Change Delusion

Are most businesses busy holding on to ingrained offerings and practices? The short answer is that even the ‘best’ of today’s businesses together with most of our own companies are holding on to ‘business-as-usual’’. We can’t help ourselves but holding on to what already has been built. We try to maintain our current position rather than innovate for new opportunities. We tend to focus on incremental improvement of existing offerings and are busy coming up with new versions of old strategies rather than aggressively seeking disruptive change. So, we need to start letting go of the status quo. If still in doubt, think of what happened to renowned companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster, The NY Times, Nokia, and Blackberry.

Two: The Customer Delusion

Are most businesses truly customer-centric? Is the driver to create value for customers? Or, is it to increase sales of what we offer? It’s a subtle distinction but a critical one. We are in the middle of a customer revolution that is changing not only the way we produce, market, sell, and deliver our products today but the way we create and deliver customer value in the future. But most propositions are still developed in isolation of our customers or, at best ,developed for them. Customers are still too often perceived as targets and passive recipients. So, we need to be customervalue driven as opposed to product, sales or marketing driven. And, we need to co-create offerings from the Outside-In together with our customers.

Three: The Planning Delusion

Many businesses are trapped in deluded beliefs when it comes to the muchexploited term of strategic planning. Somewhere along the line strategy hijacked itself to become little more than a box-ticking exercise failing to take almost any business forward. How can we seriously expect for meaningful strategies to be created during a ceremonial planning session once or twice a year? And how can we assume that distinctive strategies are to be formulated mainly by the leadership team? As though there are only a few selected people in an organisation who can ‘see the future’? We keep holding on to conventional planning processes that are futile in today’s rapidly changing and competitive world. So, we need to break the old habits of monopolised and periodic planning. Those that don’t simply won’t survive.

Four: The People Delusion

How do today’s employees deal with the increasing work demands and flood of information? With the text messages, the tweets, the 200- plus emails, the checking of the mobile phone 150 times, the meetings and conference calls every day? The simple answer is they don’t. Two out of three employees feel overwhelmed and are disengaged. It shouldn’t be surprising that most strategic change efforts fail when a critical mass of people can’t or don’t want to exert the required extraenergies. So, we need to create business environments where people are proficient (Can), are aligned (Know), and are affectively committed (Want) to realising strategic change.


Five: The Communication Delusion

Leaders invest a lot of time on ‘communicating’ strategic plans through bulk emails, on websites, in newsletters, through town hall meetings, or roadshows. But it’s a delusion to think that strategies would become meaningful in this way. To start with, corporate ‘communication’ is largely perceived as a one-way information exercise. Providing top-down information about what needs to be done is obviously easier than inviting a wide range of reactions and interpretations. But just informing people about the intended strategy doesn’t mean it’s meaningful to them. So, rather than selling a plan through conventional communication, we need to engage people through deeper dialogue and sensemaking of a wider and compelling ‘story’.

Six: The Behavioural Delusion

Another delusion that needs highlighting is around behaviours and performance. Within most of our organisations we put an equal value on demonstrating desired behaviours and on high performance. But high performers who misbehave are too often being tolerated within our businesses. All our efforts are jeopardized the moment we start accepting and rewarding high performance regardless of the display of undesired behaviours. So, we need to hold people accountable to be high performers and demonstrate desired behaviours. We need to reinforce desired behaviours and take decisive action in relation to misbehaviours. Such action will guard the social energy that provides meaning, dfirection and mobilisation.


Seven: The Leadership Delusion

Who is ultimately responsible for today’s strategy delusions in relation to Change, Customers, Planning, People, Communication, and Behaviours? The answer leads to the ultimate delusion regarding our beliefs about ‘leadership’. There are thousands of books that have been written on the topic and dozens of academic philosophies or concepts. How indeed can we argue against for example appreciative, mindful, or values-based leadership? Obviously we can’t. But what we seem to have forgotten in all of this is that leadership ultimately is about direction. The Anglo-Saxon etymological root of the word means path or road. Leadership has to be about realising a preferred direction. But many leaders seem besieged, snowed-under, inundated, and paralysed with trying to manage the daily demands and complications of organisational life today. Longer-term strategic leadership has lost out to short-term operational management. So, we need to encourage leaders who simply won’t accept a short term orientation, business-as-usual, ingrained business models, periodic and monopolised planning, internally-driven customer strategies, overwhelmed and unrecognised employees, misbehaviours, and 20th century leadership styles.

-Dr Marc Stigter is an international strategy advisor and co-author with Professor Cary Cooper of Solving the Strategy Delusion.

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