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Business or personal strategy: which dominates your board?




What is it with our obsession with strategy? We are respectful of words like profit and loss but somehow treat strategy differently.


After 15 years consulting and nearly 20 years in corporate life, it is the word which stands out for me as the most abused because it appears to mean wholly different things to different people.


Conversations, which tend to be liberally peppered with it, bear this out: “I’m hiring someone to do the day to day stuff, so that I can concentrate on strategic stuff” or “We have just hired an awesome Head of Strategy” or “Frankly, and strictly between you and me, the problem with Joe Bloggs is that he’s not very strategic”.


Worse is when strategy is confused with purpose and execution as in “we intend to be the best in the world by hiring good people”.


Being the best in the world, if you mean it, is a business objective and is not a strategy. Hiring good people is as basic a leadership behaviour as breathing. Strategy, it ain’t.

But why the confusion? Strategy means how your board achieves its purpose. That’s it.

It should be decided once and, while it may change, it should stay fixed for a reasonable period to allow for its implementation.


Therefore there should be no need to use the word strategy in any context other than “since our agreed strategy is X then we are doing y or we should do z”. Or not, if those actions are not congruent with your strategy.


For example, Ryanair’s objective was, it appears, to be the best and most profitable no frills airline in the world – or words to that effect.


Its strategy appears to have been to train the market  to expect nothing but a safe and cheap flight. Its execution behaviour – love it or loath it – was to do everything to lower market expectations of airline service which had been raised over a generation which believed  flying was for a certain “class” of person. Ryanair broke that myth.


Proof that its poor treatment of customers was “strategic” is the manner in which it reacted almost overnight to the introduction of a business class product by rival Easyjet. Suddenly, Ryanair became user fri