Is your strategy being distorted by discourse?

What on earth is discourse? well, it’s what we think and say. What we say shapes what we do, and how others perceive our organisation and ourselves. If you want to create a strategy that is truly competitive, it is unlikely you will get there by using buzzwords such as “we want to conquer the Chinese market”…”we have a strategy that will keep us at the top of our game”…”we want new routes to market..” All these are slogans, which probably confuse more than clarify. You have to be crystal clear – for instance, to talk about the difference between which markets you want to serve (corporate strategy) as distinct from how to want to succeed (competitive strategy) and thus achieve sustained advantage in those markets. If your board talks of resources, but does not talk about capabilities, or how capabilities link to products and services, then the strategy is likely to be too focused on counting and squeezing resources.

Listen for who talks about strategy, the vision and where the organisation is going. If there are differences in what you hear from the shop floor and the boardroom, this means lack of clarity. The board may think that issuing statements about strategic intent will result in strategy being implemented, but implementation requires all levels of management to be involved. As this surely means that all levels need to be involved in strategy formulation.

If your suppliers talk in a different way about your strategy to the way you talk about it, then update them. Get the supply chain end to end believing in and promoting your strategy. You don’t need to reveal confidences, but reveal more than you think. The real secret to your success may be in the 100s and 1000s of interlinked processes, routines, and the cultural glue that binds then all together – this is not easy for competitors to replicate.

Gone are the days when a top team decides the strategy, and then the others simply obey and implement. Often, those at the coal face will have much more insight than top management as to why products and services are doing well, or not so well. Some organisations get it right, and the language of strategy is broadly consistent across and up and down the organisation.

But what if the language and the statements about strategy are so aligned within the organisation, that no one can challenge it – in other words “groupthink”? Does your organisation have ways for people to challenge and offer new ideas about how the organisation can thrive?

You could do better than having more meetings open to all staff. Open the closed doors and trust people more. In the Financial Times today 17th March, there is a great article about how the Financial Conduct Authority is seeking to be more open about the way it works. Can you take a leaf out of its book? What steps as a manager and leader can you take locally tomorrow to get the conversation about strategy out in the open?

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