What does strategy really mean?

Silicon Cape
21 Oct 2009

The term “Strategy” is bandied about so much today that I think it’s lost it’s meaning. Like “synergy” and “cohesion” and “think outside the box” before it, “strategy” can be found in any game of boardroom bingo across the planet. They’re the words we use when want to convey any manner of idea and we all think that we have a common understanding of the word.

I’ve witnessed situations where the word strategy has confused the heck out of meetings: some people believe it includes the rollout plan while others want a vision statement while others too want it to mean the way we work. The thing is that any one of these ideas can be true but only if eveyone buys in and agrees that the strategy is the thing and the thing is the strategy.

Thus I call for some revision of what strategy actually means! (Though I don’t propose to know everything there is on the subject by a long way!)

So let us begin at the beginning.

The origin of the word strategy comes from the Greek word meaning General and has distinct military overtones.

The VISION is to win the war.
The TACTICS are the movement of troups.
The STATEGY is the management of the troops as a whole and this calls for knowledge and forethought about terrain, the weather and experience.

In other words:

If a plan (tactics) is how we get from A to B and a vision is what we think of as B, then strategy is how we see ourselves in relation to A, B and the wider world of C. In other words, if a vision is a statement about who we are then the strategy should provide the meaning or context for that vision. Strategy is the environment and it starts at home.

What do I mean “it starts at home”?

Well, a strategy should have meaning throughout a company. From cleaning staff to CEO there is a single understanding of who the business is in relation to the world. A strategy looks at the vision statement of the company and provides the wherewithal to achieve the vision. So if the vision is to build a strong mobile social network aimed at working mothers then the strategy would include something along the lines of employing women with children who are active in the social media space and who are stuck to their cell phones umbilically. It may also include keeping an eye on the competition and being able to manage quick interface changes and marketing campaigns.With these 2 strategic goals clearly stated both the HR team and the Technology team have a remit for all their decision making.

And if the vision statement and the strategy are strong enough, the boss should be able to put his feet up; which is the ultimate vision for most of us isn’t it?

Strategies can change, but vision statements should stick around.

Ultimately a strong company will have a strong strategy that doesn’t chop and change over the years and it’s easy to see why: if the strategy doesn’t change from year to year then the people working there have a strong sense of identity and affinity for the place they work. But in the world after midnight it’s hard for us to hold on to a single strategy and so they do change and mutate over time. This is natural – we dump strategies that aren’t working and adopt new ones that appeal to us. For example marketing strategies may change from a strong emphasis on traditional media to a strong emphasis on social media but the vision will stay the same.

Strategy is not the domain of senior management only.

The key to a successful strategy is simple:

It has to be transparent, it has to have intrinsic value and it has to be constantly reinforced. And to this end, a strong leader is tantamount to the success of any stategy.

If you’d like to discuss principles and ideas around strategic thinking please email us at enquiries@backspaceconsulting.co.za