By Chally Kacelnik
I must have written about this story before, but it’s still something I think about a lot: I was working on a project with an organisation that was kicking into a new round of strategic planning. People were a bit annoyed that their work was getting interrupted, and the planning was just something they had to do before they got back to their “real work”. That is, doing strategy was seen as an irritating obligation that interrupted rather than fundamentally informed their work. They didn’t expect the direction of their work to change as a result of the new strategy, because it never had.
A strategy is there to inform everything an organisation does, down to the daily work. If it’s not doing that effectively, it’s time to revisit. Something that illustrates the importance of a strategy starkly is what happens when you don’t have one.
That’s what happened for Nokia, once the biggest worldwide vendor of mobile phones. While they were doing well, they stopped focusing on strategy. This left Nokia unable to respond to a changing industry while Apple surged ahead with their better software and pioneering of apps. Nokia didn’t have the skills or capacity to compete, and the quality of their products was getting worse. This couldn’t change because there wasn’t a coherent strategy behind their mobile phone business, and the void was being filled with infighting among managers.
Because they didn’t pick a strategy – that is, Nokia didn’t properly differentiate what they had to offer or ruthlessly tackle costs* – they ended up getting beaten on both fronts. They eventually left the mobile phone market (although they’re making another go of it now).
You can sink a successful organisation if you don’t get strategy right. It’s not there to look good, it’s there to direct the work that everyone in the organisation does towards one purpose, and one set of goals, clearly understood by everyone. If you’ve been seeing strategy as something that’s a bit secondary, have a hard look at the impact this is having on how work is performed and how people relate to their roles (and each other).
An inspiring, purposeful strategy will make all the difference for your organisation.
*I’m drawing on US academic Michael Porter’s model for competitive advantage here.