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What is Strategy?

April 13, 2010

Please take a couple of minutes to answer this question: what is strategy?

How did you do?  Was it easy? Difficult?  Are you satisfied with your answer?  It would not be surprising if each one of you had a very different definition of what strategy is.  Strategy is, indeed, a very elusive concept.  To paraphrase management guru Henry Mintzberg, strategy is an elephant and someone has yet to see the whole beast!

In his book “Strategy Safari: Your Complete Guide Through the Wilds of Strategic Management,” Mintzberg identifies 10 different strategy schools, each exemplifying a particular aspect of the strategy-formation process.  Each school, in and of itself, provides a limited perspective on strategy.  The sum of all the views presented, however, is not sufficient to really understand the “whole.”

Consider the organization your work for and the particular way(s) you go about to developing your strategies:

  • Do you have a separate strategy group or department?
  • Is your process top-down or decentralized?
  • Who do you involve in the strategy-making process?
  • Do you have a clearly defined strategic planning process?
  • Do you differentiate between strategic planning and strategic thinking?  In what way?
  • Is your strategy-making process deliberate—that is, does the process supports the development of strategies that achieve the specific intentions of the individuals that developed them?
  • Or, in contrast, are your strategies emergent, organically developed out of the activities taking place in your firm, in the absence of specified intentions?
  • How much research and analysis do you perform when developing your strategy?
  • Do you have a one-year, five-year or ten-year strategic plan?  Or do you simply operate without a strategic plan?
  • How often do you revise your business strategy?
  • What are the main drivers of your strategy-formation process: your firm’s vision or mission?  Or, pressures from the market, the competition, the main stakeholders, the overall business environment?
  • How much freedom do you feel you have in developing your strategy?
  • How formalized is your strategy implementation process?  Do you always implement your strategies?  What issues do you encounter when implementing your strategies?

If it occurs to you that you have always taken your strategy-making process for granted and never spent much time reflecting on it, perhaps it is time to step back and re-evaluate it: your process may take a new meaning and dimension if you get a little bit more “strategic” about it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    April 16, 2010 4:55 am

    Just for fun, here’s the definition that popped into my head: for me, strategy is an intuition or insight into how to go about doing something.

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