Adapting the Art of Strategy to Your World

Strategy is almost always about how you choose to interact with and adapt to your environment and market opportunities. The World Strategy Week series of webinars this month offered quick insight into how much the art of strategy is also adapting to today’s environment.

The Association of Strategic Planning lined up multiple presenters for five days of webinars and generally gave them free rein to share their experience of strategy today. For the expediency of a quick-reading blog, I’ll give blanket recognition to these experts and sum up the themes they discussed. This will make it easy for you to compare your experience with theirs and think about how you might update your approach to strategy. I’ve added my experience in italics.

  1. Strategy requires learning throughout the organization.  Once the domain of the C-suite, strategy is better informed and executed when it is bottom-up and organization-wide.  The speakers didn’t adequately address how to productively develop strategy from the bottom-up. Inclusive processes of listening and learning together are good; inclusive decision-making, however, is often less efficient and strategic.
  2. Strategy is a continuous, wave-like process of smart responses to changing conditions and opportunities.  Waves are a good metaphor for strategy as long as you are moving toward your vision. Some leaders use this mindset to dismiss the need for any long range plans and opt to make decisions in the moment.  
  3. Strategy is true to your identity and consistent with your strategic direction and competencies.  This is strategy with integrity. Too many leaders envy and emulate what others are doing without taking stock of what is right for their organizations.
  4. Strategy is the ability to create the story that connects your organization with humans. A compelling strategy does tell a story of who you are and what you want to do in the world. The most important idea here is connecting with humans, an essential step in organizing people to do anything truly remarkable.
  5. Strategy requires a deep understanding of your customers and stakeholders—their problems, needs and desired outcomes. In this way, organizations can shift into anticipating opportunities as they emerge. For associations and nonprofits, this is critical. To succeed, you have to be in close relationship with those you serve. Associations get into trouble when they fail to recognize how their members and stakeholders are changing and what they will need and value in the future.     
  6. Strategy is the ability to generate, control and exploit innovation.  Strategy does focus us on staying relevant and effective. There’s an old adage that association members want to know what the association has done for them lately. Developing new programs and products and improving the customer experience keeps things exciting for members and customers.
  7. Strategy is executed through change initiatives.  Many strategies do fail because they are seen as decisions to be made or projects to be managed.  More strategies would succeed if organizations treated them as change initiatives requiring the realignment of people, resources, organizational structures and operations, and performance measurement.

The World Strategy Week speakers all bought into a shared premise for this week—the world needs strategy. We need all the dimensions they described to practice this art well.