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  • Maria Muir

Demystifying strategy: From an elusive word to a muscle needed by everyone


Man and woman writing out a plan on a whiteboard.


Strategy is a word that is elusive. It has an air of mystery.


It is a word that is thrown around a lot and with loose meaning. It is a word that many of us don't actually understand.


To make matters more complex, organisations often outsource strategy to a strategy consultancy which adds to the mystic and they pay a lot of $$ for it. 


And yet even as a management consultant, in my early days, I was led to believe that strategy was just for the strategy team. I viewed strategy as a special skill that only a few could have. Strategy has become a word that implies a level of elitism because it is only for a few and not for all.


I have had 3 realisations – Strategy is not loose. Strategy is for all. Strategy is a muscle that we need to work on.


So, what is strategy?


Strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions a company with its customers to create sustainable competitive advantage and superior value for those customers.


This is an adaptation on Roger Martin's definition of strategy that he shared in his 2013 book Playing to Win.


Strategy is not:

🚫 Only a vision, mission, or purpose statement. Almost every org I have worked with has one of these! And strategy can't stop here!

🚫 Only a business plan. Every org I have worked with has this – gotta love the annual planning process. Coming up with a list of projects is not strategy.

🚫 Only done with a short-term lens. This is a challenge I see more and more. In response to the uncertain and unknown world, we have become responsive. We have lost sight of the medium and long term.

🚫 Following what everyone else in your industry sector is doing. When you’ve got big players in a sector, it’s often hard to differentiate between one player from another. I see this across the banks, insurers, energy retailers, etc. 

🚫 Set and forget. Strategy is an iterative process. This means that we need to embed this into the enterprise cadence and rhythms. This means that we need to make space for this in our calendars.

🚫 Only done by the executive team or your strategy function. Strategy is a muscle that all leaders need to have, at all levels.

🚫 Easy. Having worked on strategies for the businesses that I have created, I can attest to how hard this is! 


Strategy is not avoiding making choices. 


Strategy is about enabling you to achieve the long-term outcome that you are aspiring towards.


It is made up of bets that you decide to place over a multi-year, annual, quarterly period to make your aspiration a reality. And along the way, you are testing and learning if those bets are the right ones. Sensing, responding, and learning from customer feedback.


Now what?


OKRs are a great tool to help you to write those bets so that you can make those choices. More on OKRs in an upcoming blog post.


To get started:


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