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Your Strategic Plans Probably Aren't Strategic, or Even Plans (hbr.org) 120

An anonymous reader shares a report: Unfortunately, while C-suite executives talk "strategy," they're often confused about what it means. Why this confusion? The problem starts with the word itself -- a scarily misunderstood concept in management and board circles. The most basic mix-up is between "objective," "strategy," and "action." (I see this frequently in published strategic plans as well.) Grasp this, I tell my audience, and your day will be well spent.

An "objective" is something you're trying to achieve -- a marker of the success of the organization. At the other end of the spectrum is "action." This occurs at the individual level -- a level that managers are presented with day after day. So naturally when they think "strategy" they focus on what they do. But this isn't strategy either. "Strategy" takes place between these two at the organization level and managers can't "feel" that in the same way. It's abstract. CEOs have an advantage here because only they have a total view of the organization.

The key to strategy is that it's the positioning of one business against others -- such GM against Ford and Toyota, for example. What exactly is positioning? It's placement on the strategic factors relevant to each key stakeholder group.

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Your Strategic Plans Probably Aren't Strategic, or Even Plans

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:05PM (#56394541)
    >> CEOs have an advantage...because only they have a total view of the organization.

    A CEO fluffer piece from an MBA diploma factory on a slow news Friday. My popcorn's ready...
    • Re:popcorn: ready (Score:5, Informative)

      by wonderboss ( 952111 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:11PM (#56394587)

      Fluffer
      A fluffer is a person employed to keep a male porn performer's penis erect on the set. These duties, which do not necessarily involve touching the actors, are considered part of the makeup department. Wikipedia

      LMAO

      • yes, an MBA or other exec under a senior exec

        • I ask attendees, who rank from board members and CEOs to middle management, to write down an example of a strategy on a sheet of paper

          To crush our enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      CEOs are often surrounded by sycophants. Much like a king's court, they serve to filter the information that reaches the ruler. And often, particularly if they have their own agenda, they can steer decisions to suit themselves.

      • CEOs are often surrounded by sycophants. Much like a king's court, they serve to filter the information that reaches the ruler. And often, particularly if they have their own agenda, they can steer decisions to suit themselves.

        s/CEOs/Presidents/

      • Not just CEOs. It's a corollary to the peter principle, the name of which escapes me: When people have reached their level of incompetence they, at some level, know it. To better hide, they proceed to surround themselves with even more incompetent people.

        In a large, old organizations, you will often find whole groups that appear to be inexplicably incompetent, as in your initial reaction is: 'They can't be that bad, things are running aren't they?' They usually put on something along the lines of: 'there

    • Yep. I've made a career out of telling CEOs about key bits of information that people in their organization knew, but their inner circle did their best to never mention. It's crazy how often we think that there's something that 'everyone knows that everyone knows', but that in reality is unknown by execs.

      Another common trope is how managers have both upward-focused skills and downward focused skills. So many managers of managers end up being completely unaware that a manager is terrible dealing with their r

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The quote in the summary alone was a good WTF.
      First sentence, yup, can believe that. Second sentence, business types find words scary? Okay. From there on... WTF?

  • Let's address the broader problem, shall we?

    "Unfortunately, while C-suite executives talk $_ANYTHING they're often confused about what it means."

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:15PM (#56394609) Homepage

    TLDR: Mid-level managers use the word "strategy" to mean BS things that are not strategies. If you groan when you hear the word "leverage" and "synergize" then you aren't one of those people, and there is nothing new in the article.

    I found the article confusing because it is clearly aimed at people who can't tell buzzwords from reality. I didn't understand how anyone could use the word "strategy" to mean anything else. It wasn't until I saw the examples and realized "ohhh... THOOOSE kinds of people."

  • by ChoGGi ( 522069 )

    News for nerds, stuff that matters?

  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:19PM (#56394641)

    So why is it that Military terms are used for business?

    You want to make money and not destroy an enemy nation.

    Suggest "Thief's Cant" is actually more useful.

    Instead of "Revenue" say "Loot". Instead of "Customer" say "Mark."

  • An "objective" is something you're trying to achieve -- a marker of the success of the organization. At the other end of the spectrum is "action." This occurs at the individual level -- a level that managers are presented with day after day. So naturally when they think "strategy" they focus on what they do. But this isn't strategy either. "Strategy" takes place between these two at the organization level and managers can't "feel" that in the same way. It's abstract. CEOs have an advantage here because only they have a total view of the organization.

    Is the poster seriously expecting business management to use proper grammar? It's hard enough for regular rank-and-file employees to understand these nuances.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:25PM (#56394677) Homepage Journal
    I thought it'd be neat to write a virus that lived on network printers and would replace every instance of the word "Strategic" with the word "Satanic" when printing. Sadly, there didn't seem to be any way to open a network socket from the PostScript(tm) layer of the printer, so it would have been unable to spread properly. The "Satanic Plans for Q2" transparencies would definitely have spiced up the board meetings.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:25PM (#56394679)

    The key to success is the following.
    1. A product or service good enough not to get legal action against you.
    2. A sales and marketing team who can exaggerate how great this product is without crossing the line and making legal actions against you, and who knows the people who have the pockets to buy the product.
    If you are going to error, you should error on the side of getting legal action, because if you sell more then the cost of the legal you are still making out.
    3. Don't barrow more money then you are able to bring in in the long term (Like Toys R' Us and iHeart Media).

    Me, I have too much respect for my work to get past #1. And I suck at sales.

  • Departments can indeed make strategic plans, we just finished a five year one at work. Strategy doesn't mean what is between the author's ears.

  • 1. What is being described is typically the role of an Enterprise Architect. And this is why EAs should report to the board of directors, not into IT. Enterprise Architecture doesn't mean "Even Bigger Technical Architecture", it means "The Architecture of the Enterprise Itself". Corporate strategy (to the author's point) is about this overarching design (usually done against a framework).

    2. If you want to have a successful organization you need to DESIGN the organization in such a way that the right pe

    • I am finding this conception of strategy is weak on practical guidance. It is nice to say these here is our object and here are strategic objectives informed by our strategy, that has some value for planning things that are easy, but that is not enough when things are complicated.

      TFA mentions the example, say, Toyota touting its safety. But that seems like little more than a marketing tactic to me. Is Toyota spending enough engineering resources on its safety right now? Could it get a bigger budget for

  • by desdinova 216 ( 2000908 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:26PM (#56394685)
    12% of a plan?
  • Yes, the article is full of buzzwords, but those words do actually have meaning. I agree that more often than not, the words get tossed around, soul sucking meetings had, papers filled out and minutes recorded and nothing actually happens.

    But, that doesn't mean the is theory is bad, only the implementation.

    In essence, that's what this article is trying to say. Strategy is not about deciding to make a new product or enter a new market. Strategy is about deciding who you are as a company. That's a much bigger

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      See, I was with you up to the example. Words do have meanings. Strategy is a word, and it has a meaning. It means "a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major overall aim."

      It doesn't mean deciding who you are (navel gazing?), or whatever the hell the article thinks it means (as far as I can tell the author doesn't actually settle on a definition).

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:29PM (#56394703)
    with very few exceptions. They're the ruling class. That's why corporations have all sorts of legal protections you and I don't have (you don't spill the blood of kings) and why they're never punished for their mistakes (if you're gonna hit the king you better kill the king).

    America and all the rest of the world has a strong class divide as well as various caste systems used to divide the working class into manageable chunks that can be rules. Once you realize this everything else makes sense.
    • Once you realize this everything else makes sense.

      You mean: Once you pick an ideology with which to interpret everything you see, you can easily make everything fit into your ideology. Which helps to make it feel like everything makes sense.

      Protip: The world is a messy, complicated place. If everything makes sense, you're almost certainly misinterpreting and oversimplifying.

      • but thanks for trying to put words in my mouth.

        We have a ruling class. Just like the kings of old. You can even occasionally join it through trickery, guile or just plain extraordinary good fortune. Just like in the old days.

        Yes, the world is a complicated place. But that doesn't mean there aren't systems in place that can be recognized. Or that these systems don't exist for the benefit of all mankind. As Gore Vidal put it: I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm a conspiracy analyst.

        Oh, and Protip:
  • What does that have to do with the goddamn TPS reports?
  • Mostly moonshine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OneHundredAndTen ( 1523865 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:31PM (#56394719)
    This is 90% moonshine, with 10% of substance. The language of business.
  • by ripvlan ( 2609033 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @04:52PM (#56394859)

    Ever work for a big company? - did you have to write down your G&O's ? I always thought WTF is the difference and wrote crap down because I knew that the next year nobody read it anyhow.

    Maybe I'm getting old - but do people really ask what the difference is between a Strategy and Action plan? Seriously is that somebody people wonder...and more important didn't know? You got'ur play book - make it happen.

    Make it so.

    • How about let's throw in some more letters: OGSM [wikipedia.org] is clearly superior!

      • nope - didn't have to do that one. phew! It's good to have goals so that everyone is on the same page. But I found Actions tended to be based on folks reviewing the Goals as interpretive dance. It's amazing how off track a large company can be. We all hear the same thing but a large number of people still stick to their original plan. Then your manager says, "that's not the plan, ignore that team, don't help them."

        I remember a project where the big honcho business leader said "after reviewing the

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @05:11PM (#56394985)

    I had him once, briefly for a few months. This guy had been promoted 2 or 3 levels above his ability.
    We're in a meeting with the head of dev and we all agree that v2.x, which a few customers wanted continued, was a "tactical release".
    We then get onto the new stuff, v3.x which the company was betting it's long term future on. The room called it a "strategic release".
    However it then got messy and v3.x started getting pushed aside in favour of v2.x and even saw v3.x getting things changed to suit v2.x needs.
    I said "why are we allowing our tactics to dictate our strategy?".
    Boss looks at me like a moose chewing cud silently mouthing the words I'd just said while screwing up his face.
    The head of dev breaks the silence with "good point!". They moved on and continued with their plans.
    If your strategy isn't primary and you let your tactics dictate your long terms plans and actions you are fucked.
    I think this story raises a good point, most people don't know what strategy, or tactics, are or can differentiate them.

    • A good strategy is generally going to play on your tactical strengths. Which isn't the same thing as letting your 'tactics dictate your strategy'.

      3.0 bett\er solve all the business problems 2.0 did. Depends on what you meant by 'v2.x needs'. Many times old versions need to have stakes driven through their hearts. But that's after _years_ of support. Just corporate reality, 2.0 will live on years after 3.0 does everything. Until 3.0 does everything the clock doesn't even start.

      When 'head of dev' is herd

      • by Anonymous Coward

        yup.. people can tell strategy from tactics , but their personal strategies or tactics don't necessarily align with those of the organization's or people around.

  • to words that matter?

  • I win.
  • To be strategic is to do something in the wider world like countering competitors in an established market, or invading a new market. It intimately involves responses of players you have 0 control over in reality, customers, competitors responses, and investor expectations.

    Control freaks, do not apply here. You will fail. Yes you can be a destructive middle manager with some stats you can manipulate to show apparentsuccess, but as soon as you come up against what you have 0 control over you will not know h

  • Tactics is all about what tack you're on, so as to be able to fire broadsides at an enemy who can't fire back. Strategy is all about being upwind before the battle ever starts, so you can chose what tack to be on, when your enemy can't.
  • Posting to undo wrongly cast moderation.
  • I believe that CEO must share crucial information so that its directors and managers can achieve the goals and objectives of the company.
  • Recommended Reading: "The Strategy-focussed Organisation". ISBN 1578512506. it's a biiiig book. you can read it, or you can use it to beat your CEO over the head. either way you will feel a lot better about strategy. or you could just subscribe to dilbert. http://dilbert.com/strip/2014-... [dilbert.com]

    but seriously, this is a book that asks the right questions for anyone wanting to know about strategy within an organisation. it asks - and shockingly actually answers - the question, "why should anyone at any level

  • I was part of a "strategy" group of our corporation.
    Over time, I found that it was not strategy we were doing, but merely translating and justifying the ideas of the top management.

    Today, I'd call it propaganda instead of strategy: to "sell" gueswork and industry hypes to other parts of the organization.

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