Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Why is 'strategy' such a dirty word?

I've been working in and around the strategy arena for over five years now and I've noticed an increasingly common trend. Whenever the word 'strategy' is mentioned people tend to switch off. You can tell by the sudden glazing or rolling of the eyes - or a wrinkling of the nose as if some unpleasant smell has wafted over.

Why? Well - unfortunately the term itself has been so over-used as to become virtually meaningless. From job titles that include 'strategic' (a friend tells me he saw an advert from the London Borough of Ealing for a 'Strategic Involvement Officer', whatever that means) to documents that are given the tag 'strategy' or 'strategic' to somehow legitimise them. Like the infamous Iraq dossier, I'm afraid the term seems to be used to 'sex things up' . . .

So - do we need a new term or a new language for that which is 'strategic'? Perhaps - but who's to say that language won't in its turn be misused? I think it would be better to come back to what I believe strategy is all about - answering the 'why' for organisations, setting direction and purpose - not necessarily the detailed 'how'. So strategy is about outcomes, results or goals - the purposive changes that organisations set out to achieve.

So the next time someone glazes over or wrinkles their nose at the 'S' word, try talking instead about results - why are they taking their organisation in a particular direction? What outcomes are they hoping to achieve? And why those outcomes and not something else. In other words - where's the evidence to support their - and I use the term advisedly - Strategy?

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