Are we losing sight of strategy?

I was sifting through my spam filter earlier, trying to decide where to buy the Viagra that will “make her smile tonight” and provide an outing for the “massive tool” that I am assured can be mine without surgery, when I came across a mail from an old colleague that had been misdirected there.

I was delighted to hear from him after a lengthy silence, but his message was sad.  Basically, the gist is that he has come to the conclusion that despite their constant talk, organisations really don’t want strategy anymore.  In fact, he suggested that if you corner many senior managers in the pub they’ll tell you that in their opinion, strategy just gets in the way of real day-to-day business.  As a consequence my old colleague is now resigned to a daily routine of moving the usual tactical shit back and forth between an ever-decreasing number of parking places.

These days we are all pretty well agreed that the fundamental difference between a successful oragnisation and an unsuccessful one is efficiency.  The thing is that in an effort to increase their efficiency many organisations have thrown the baby out with the bathwater – reducing head-count without establishing a stragic framework or methodology.  For those of us who have undertaken house renovations on any scale this is akin to setting up your Acrow props to keep the ceiling in place, knocking down the supporting wall and then removing the props without first installing the RSJ.  The result is that your days thereafter will be spent addressing the purely tactical issue of preventing parts of your bedroom from moving into your lounge.  Most organisation will find that it is possible for them to reduce their marketing head-count, but only if there is a strategic framework in which the tactical day-to-day can operate.  If not, the tactical will take over and demand ever increasing time and resource.

If, like me, you studied such things when notes were taken with a pen and paper (if not a slate!) you’ll be familiar with the debate over the relationship between transactional and transformational management.  Having decided that the traditional cycle, which alternated between a transactional and transformational business model, produced business modulations with a less that acceptable aggregate performance, we concluded that a business model that included both elements operating simultaneously was the way to go.  The idea was, and is, that the transformational guys (or strategists) focus on devising new products, services, and marketing ideas, which they then hand over to transactors to perpetuate.  Any organisation is only as good as its next big idea and this is the only way an organisation can generate essential innovation whilst still managing the day-to-day.

Without the appropriate strategic support an organisation is driven ever further into the mire of purely tactical marketing.  Its a mire because a purely tactical approach is slow.  You get left behind.  To keep up you have to continually throw in more resource, which is self-defeating, or add pressure to your personnel, which in turn inevitably leads to dissatisfaction, resignations, lack of continuity, skills gaps and, of course, poor performance on every level.

Going back to the “efficiency” thing, successful organisations are those that reach the market objective first.  Imagine two people, one blindfolded, standing at the end of a corridor littered with largish obstacles.  Now, visualise what would happen if you told them both to get to the opposite end of the corridor as quickly as possible.  The result would be a pretty accurate illustration of the difference between an organisation with a strategy and one without – strategy is your long vision.  You can bumble around without it for a while, but you’ll never win against a competitor with a their tactical and strategic (or transactional and transformational) elements working together.  Strategy is what helps you use your resources more efficiently.  It is not a luxury that you can cut back on when cash is short, but the means to make that cash go further.

We are all familiar with the facts that show that organisations that maintain or even increase their marketing efforts through a recession end up on top when the recession lifts, but I wonder if this result is as much a product of the organisations concerned, stopping and thinking about their business in order to make the bold decision to buck the trend, as it is the investment itself.  If you look at the winners in this scenario they tend to be enlightened businesses with a firm grasp of the real issues and a sound strategic habit.

Despite all the lessons of the past, it remains a common recessionary practice to cut back on strategy and focus on the short-term when times get tough.  Now I think about it, I have probably encountered an increasing number of businesses in recent months that appear to be retrenching into the tactical.  I even had the CEO of a major listed company tell me the other day that he was too busy with day-to-day business to find the time to work on strategy, but is my old colleague right?  Are businesses really abandoning the long-vision in favour of the tactical treadmill, or is this just a predictable recessionary blip?  I can’t really believe that the former is so, but what do you think?

Now, where is that Viagra supplier …?

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