The importance of strategy to steer organizations during uncertain times in unchartered territories could not be overemphasized and the current crisis proves it. The role of business leaders is fundamental in strategy development and execution and key contributor to a successful strategy implementation.
Whilst one of the main roles of business leaders is to set and communicate vision, mission and strategic objectives, many fail in the execution process as they get sucked into the details of day to day tactics. With the “big-picture” view, the leadership is able to view the ever changing environment and decide on how the organization needs to respond and to steer the organization towards the longer-term objectives. Whilst the strategic vision remains the same, the route to reach the destination might follow different tactics and game plans.
The word strategy is attributed to the military as its origin was originally derived from the Greek word for “army”. It describes a plan of action developed to realize a specific goal, bearing in mind the difference between strategy and tactics. Tactics is generally concerned with the manner an engagement is conducted, whilst strategy deals with how various engagements are interconnected.
Strategy is all about clarity, and if the strategy is not simple, clear and well-understood, it will not be accomplished. It represents the organization’s main direction and prime focus and defines the way to get there. It can only be executed if everyone involved knows what is expected of them and their purpose is totally aligned with its direction.
In business, the term strategy is frequently badly and inconsistently defined. Business people involved in formulating the strategy understand it well, whilst the majority others do not, particularly if they are not engaged in its development or strategy is not communicated down to them. Others mix strategy with vision and tactics.
Strategy is a real differentiator, often seen as the secret for long-term success and one of the leadership characteristics. It unites the whole workforce, nurtures and develops opportunities and ensures endurance during crises or tough times.
Although strategy represents a solid and firm direction, it should not be built into stone. Instead, it should be adaptable to reflect changes in the environment, whether it is politically, economically, socially, technologically or legally related. Business leaders must have clear business goals and be flexible and brave to continuously recalibrate their strategy. When times are tough and visibility is not so clear, leaders must have the buoyancy to be pragmatic and adaptable, as in the mist of chaos comes huge opportunities.
Unsuccessful companies are those which do not embrace new ideas, broaden their thinking or are totally unaware of changes in their environment. Changing circumstances may necessitate a change in direction and stubbornness and fixed ideas can frequently be the enemy of business leaders.
Business strategy is all about developing a viable plan for sustained business growth, possibly diversifying into new markets or cross selling to existing customers. Adequately qualified senior executives tend to have clear views of what their business strategy means. Good strategies are not glossy documents produced to be stacked on shelves to collect dust, but rather to be communicated, executed and monitored.
Leaders are expected to champion and drive the process of strategy execution by putting the strategy into action; after all the strategy does not mean anything unless it is fully communicated throughout the organization.
The strategy can be viewed as the story of how a business plans to develop in the next few years; investments to make, markets to address, products to develop, territories to compete in, partnerships and alliances, etc. A good strategy is simple, clear, credible, motivating and reflects the distinctive features of the business. Whilst strategies may end up looking the same, the brands and the culture of the organizations will be different.
The real test to establish whether a strategy is good or not can be seen during difficult times e.g. the current global credit crunch, as business leaders are tempted under such conditions to lose their sense of direction and seek ways to cut costs and maintain margins. The leadership’s thinking should be focused mainly on the strategy and nothing else. Companies are encouraged to continually health-check their strategy against various potential scenarios.
During changes in the working environment or tough times, the leadership should review their business strategy to assess whether it is still prudent and acceptable to adopt a more flexible approach to the execution process, for example accelerate making an investment or divesting an existing business segment. Business leaders should continuously be working on the company’s strategy, since the business environment is changing all the time with lots of threats and lots of emerging opportunities. Therefore, business leaders need to be regularly monitoring their business environment and taking a view of where the market is headed and to conduct fitness-check of their strategy.
Business strategies succeed only when they are well-developed and formulated, well communicated to the whole workforce, business functions are aligned to the corporate strategic objectives, incentives are aligned with individuals’ performance, and most importantly when the leadership is involved in the strategy formulation and execution process.