What is a strategy?

Unlike the day-to-day activities of an organisation, strategy focuses on the longer term plans of at least a year, or often three to five years, ahead, focusing on the achievement of the organisation’s overall goals.

Even with a clearly planned strategy, unexpected events and crises can cause deviation from the planned outcomes, so visionary leaders are ready to adapt accordingly.  To do this, it is essential to have effective processes in place to respond to both opportunities and crises, to underpin and support your formal planning.

Five top tips for effective strategy development

1. React to your VUCA environment

The pre-eminent, organisational theorist Professor Ralph Stacey, one of the most interesting contributors to this field, highlights the emergent nature of strategy. This is particularly relevant to organisations today, which exist in increasingly complex and volatile environments. 

2. Let them talk

We can write our strategy down and communicate it well, but the moment people start talking about it and making it happen, it shifts, because at this point it has been reconstructed by the people who will action it. Visionary leaders respond to this reconstruction. 

Some will think they know exactly what the strategy means and will not question it, but their understanding may not be your intention. Or, new recruits may interpret the strategy through the prism of their own experience. Therefore, your strategy will never be static. It will always be evolving, invariably through conversation. You can respond to that by redefining outcomes, accountability and deadlines. 

3. Unite around your organisational purpose

Our research, ‘Workforce 2020: Managing Millenials’, found that millennials, particularly, are motivated to work in organisations which reflect their own values and which make a contribution to a united, wider purpose. Being involved in organisations that make a positive difference to the world results in millennials feeling more empowered. 

When people can understand the purpose of your strategy, that resonates with their own values, they are more likely to unite around it and it will be more powerful. 

4. Recognise your middle managers

Do not assume that strategic thinking happens at the top of the organisation and is then operationalised. Your middle management has a hugely important role to play here. Recognise that they are the people who help shape your strategy when they propose the recommendations that inform many of the decisions that are then made at a more senior level. So, shift your strategy development from being one that cascades down, to one which is organisationally inclusive. 

If you try to separate your strategy from its delivery, or think that one set of people will do the thinking and another set of people will action it, it will never achieve its goals. The complexity of the enactment of your strategy, just people talking to each other, will create new meaning. 

5. Take a portfolio approach to the tools you use

There are many distinct concepts of strategy but there is no overriding framework. You must choose which models are most appropriate to achieve your organisational goals. Familiarise yourself with existing concepts which can help you respond to opportunities and crises as your strategy evolves.   

How to develop strategy in practice

Great leaders have vision. Vision is one of the five dimensions of leadership we have identified, alongside Authenticity, Ownership, Collaboration and Achievement. Developing strategy is a component of Vision. 

To improve your leadership skills further, try out our flagship e-learning tool, MyLeadership, where you can take our leadership profile questionnaire and receive a personalised report. Your report will reveal how well you match up against our five dimensions, celebrate your strengths and encourage you to keep on developing.