Ask ten business people what strategy is, and most will offer the same answer: a long-term plan. My undergraduate students produce a similar reply on the first day of my strategic management class. Besides, many folks use the word to inflate their activities’ importance. One business executive bragged, “I am excited because after one year we finished working on our five-year strategic plan. Though difficult, we did it.” His strategic plan was an end—a goal. He presented it to his board of directors and then moved to another major project. He didn’t appreciate strategy and strategic management.
Strategy Concerns Choices
I learned strategy as a teenager in college when I learned to play chess. Then I realized chess is a strategy game. Each person starts with a goal to capture the other person’s king. Each must know the value and role of specific chess pieces, for instance, how each moves. Pawns move up one space; knights go in an inverted L-shape; bishops move on the same colored square to as many open spaces in a row; while the queen goes in every direction to any open slot in its path.
You cannot play chess without a game-plan if you want to succeed. And you must stay focused on that path. Before each move, ponder how the other player might respond, and consider a likely counter. When she moves outside your expectation, revisit your overall approach. But don’t change without a full evaluation of where you plan to end.
What’s the strategy in chess? It’s your choices to achieve your goal to beat your competition. That’s strategy in a nutshell—choices to get to your goals. Strategy is dynamic, not static. Once you decide your overall approach to capture the other player’s king, if she plays an unanticipated move, review your strategy and adjust as required. Never choose a game-plan to checkmate the king and follow it without regular review; change as needed. Learn the opponent’s patterns (past) and use it (present) to develop your overall approach (future). Likewise, never do a “strategic plan” and file it. Update it to show current available choices to achieve the business’ mission.
Negative Choices Often Prevails
I gained three key strategy lessons in my 32-years business career. First, strategy means choices that allow you to invest in a project after deliberate analyzes and assessments. Second, when you adopt one program, you deny others those committed resources; obvious, but vital to keep in mind. Sometimes, we ignore this negative choice.
The third noteworthy lesson is every choice will not turn out as expected and will be impossible to reverse in the short to medium term. When this happens, if you made a mistake, admit it, study other options early, and understand miscues are part of the strategic journey. You will not get every decision right. That’s why strategy is not static, but dynamic.
© 2019 Michel A. Bell