Why strategy directors shouldn’t write strategies

Simon Parker – Medium

This post is fighting talk to a blog with the title and background of this one. Having a strategy – or at least having a document called a strategy – is an indication of institutional failure: once you get to the stage of having to pay people to describe the organisation to itself and to work out how the pieces fit together, something is already going badly wrong.

At its worst, strategy becomes about attempts to engineer reality to fit a top down narrative through the medium of graphs. … So don’t write strategies. At best they give institutions the time they need to mobilise against the change you want to create

Instead, strategists should go and do something more useful, more concrete, with a much better chance of making real improvements happen.

And yet. The answer to the co-ordination problem can’t in the short term (and the short term is likely to be pretty long) be to fragment organisations to the point where co-ordination is not needed. Even if that were practically and politically feasible, it might just redraw the boundaries of Coasian space leaving the underlying co-ordination problem unchanged, at the cost of sustained distraction from the real purpose. It’s not obvious how small an organisation has to be (or even whether smallness is the key factor) to avoid needing something you might want to call a strategy.

So perhaps the distinction is not that organisations shouldn’t need a strategy, it is that that need shouldn’t degenerate into the endless production of strategies as a self-perpetuating industry. That takes me back to Sophie Dennis’s approach, and in particular to her definition of strategy:

Strategy is a coherent plan to achieve a goal that will lead to significant positive change

That’s something which should have real value – without there needing to be a graph in sight. I’d be pretty confident that Simon has got one of those.

One Comment

  1. Oh no no no. Simon has correctly diagnosed the same disease I do in the more amusing ranty bits of my Strategy talk which you so flatteringly quote (blushes). But the solution is not – MUST NOT – be to abandon strategic thinking. We need more of it, quite frankly, not less.

    But in many ways his post highlights the major problem we have with strategy. “Strategy” has become conflated with strategy documents and “doing strategy”. I think the notion that we need fewer lengthy tomes, and to adopt a much more agile and open ways of sharing our strategic thinking is really interesting. Simon is effectively saying as much. By coincidence Giles Turnball has just written a blog post on exactly that https://t.co/pq3WqV06vB?amp=1.But the last thing we need is to abandon a strategy mindset- at least in the sense that I’d define it.

    Though if that mindset is about “doing strategy” and spending 2 years writing an interminable strategy document that fails all three of my Bad Strategy tests then good riddance to it.

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