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Good Strategy

This is adapted from a session where I shared some of my experience of being a strategy team leader and also from studying Strategy for my OU degree. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in strategy development within three government departments and at G7 & G6 levels.

What is Good Strategy?

Strategy is one of those words that is badly abused, it has so many common meanings that it is hard to get a handle on what someone really means when they ask for a strategy. My working definition is that a strategy is a high level statement of what you hope to achieve, how you intend to achieve it, what the success criteria are and an understanding of why it is important.

Good strategy starts with a clear understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve. If there is no clarity on what problem you need to solve then you can’t have a strategy. If you don’t have a clear challenge to rise to, or a problem to solve then you cannot test how effective your approach is, nor improve your it later. With limited budgets it’s best to focus effort where it can do the most good. There are real problems that need to be solved, so don’t invent them in a misguided attempt to look clever.

Another common factor is that good strategy provides insight into the organisational context and an understanding of the situation that the challenge has to be faced in. It’s only with this analysis that you can identify the critical areas where your effort makes the most impact. You also need to understand the barriers or obstacles that can prevent the strategy from working. These are strategic risks, and need to be mitigated for success.

Good Strategy identifies critical areas where your effort makes the greatest impact. This allows you to be economic with effort to deliver effective outcomes. It needs a realistic plan for delivering the strategy, which includes mitigating the strategic risks. Pragmatism in delivery is vital, and a strategy that doesn’t include an element for how to make it real isn’t a good strategy, it’s just a pipe dream.

Lastly, and most crucially, a good strategy is clear and uses plain language. It doesn’t hide itself in a cloud of multi-syllabic verbiage. If you can’t explain it in a tweet, then no-one will remember it well enough to deliver it.

More Reading

If you want to read more about strategy then you might find some of these useful:

  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. A really good start at understanding what Good Strategy looks like, and how to avoid Bad Strategy.  There’s a much shorter summary by the author available – The Perils of Bad Strategy
  • Strategy Bites Back by Henry Mintzberg. Goes wider than Rumelt does, but easy to read and very useful.
  • Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is more about the way we think, and how we can train ourselves to make better decisions, very useful for strategic analysis.
  • If you want to stay current with the latest in the Strategy sphere then you should absolutely definitely subscribe to https://www.strategicreading.uk which is lovingly curated by Stefan Czerniawski, DWP’s former Strategy Director.

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