Making strategy that sticks

Strategy development can become a game of shirking responsibility. Key advice on making strategy work for your business.


Would you rather be a great strategic thinker or a great strategy maker? The answer follows the same logic as the question: "Would you rather be smart or rich?"

Most agree that it is better to be smart than rich since smart people can typically make money. Likewise, being gifted with a strategic mindset is worthless without the ability to mobilise organisational commitment around the resulting strategy.

When CIOs are challenged with developing a strategy, the tendency is to approach strategy making as an analytical, rather than an emotional, process. As a result, there is more focus on ensuring the right content than the right commitment.

To illustrate this let us examine the typical IT approach to strategy making.

Either by calendar or inclination, the CIO decides it is time to develop a strategic plan. They task one of their brightest staff members to make it happen within the next three months. The member of staff solicits the input of the other IT leaders and defines a scope that is challenging but achievable within the prescribed time frame. Broad participation is required, so the appointed person arranges for the CIO to announce the initiative as one of the organisation's top priorities and to attend the launch meeting.

The strategy-making process begins.

The plan calls for joint business-IT strategy making to define the business context and the implications to IT-enabled capabilities. Once there is a good understanding of the needs of the business, the process will shift to defining how to meet those needs-from a technology and an organisational perspective. It all makes perfect sense until theory meets reality that gaining broad participation within the defined scope and timeline will be impossible because employees already too busy.

So member of staff in charge makes a critical, and fatal, decision to shift from strategy facilitator to strategy implementer. This way, the strategy will be completed on time to serve as input to the financial planning process. The mode of implementer, the facilitator conducts interviews externally and internally and drafts a document that meets the original scope. The CIO presents the strategy and, everybody nods their heads and gets back to business.

Unfortunately, a lot of effort was expended but little strategy was made. The acid test of strategy is whether it informs and constrains decision making by compelling leaders to align their functional goals and day-to-day decision making to the goals of the enterprise. The only way to accomplish this is through communication and collaboration. The process of aligning people's hearts and minds is a difficult one that requires ongoing group discussion, and wrangling. No one can "do" strategy for someone else-it is done collectively, not individually.

Let us rewind our scenario to the point where it was clear that the strategy process was going to fail. There needed to be an open a discussion with the CIO and IT leaders about how to complete this iteration of the strategy. There needed to be a reduction of scope by identifying the critical one or two issues.

The CIO abdicated their strategy-making responsibilities by delegating them to their colleague. The accountability for strategy making is not a staff role but a leadership one. Leaders need to pave the way with their business counterparts and leadership team and, in turn, hold them accountable for making strategy with their staff and partners.

Staff resources should be used for defining and managing the process, coaching others through it, and integrating and overseeing the results to ensure focus and quality.

Those who are strategically gifted have a tendency to emphasise the quality of the idea over the quality of the commitment. Never approach strategy making as a purely analytical exercise or trade off gaining emotional commitment in the quest to "get it right" or "get it done". Strategy is never done. In the process of shaping and informing future decision making, it also must change to account for the new learning that occurs as those decisions are translated in to action.

"Recommended For You"

Sharing for power Ambitious IT pros seek COO role