Strategies, not tactics, build success

Strategy was once the province of corporate planners, or highly paid consultants, but today senior managers are reading the myriad books produced by strategy ‘gurus’, attending and even arranging seminars on strategy and generally adding to the mass of words written about this often-controversial subject. 

Many of these same managers also take strategic action although as Dr. Benjamin Tregoe, one of the world’s foremost strategic thinkers, once said when he compared strategy to sex: ‘when all is said and done, more is said than done’.

Tactics, by contrast, are the just opposite: plenty is done but not a lot is said. It seems as though ‘strategy’ is mentally and managerially superior, and ‘tactics’ are left for the minions to do. Well should that be the case?

In my opinion, both ideas are wrong. For starters, the more people under top management who are involved in developing strategy, the better it will be not only in terms of concept, but also in execution. Furthermore, the execution of the tactics, should by natural progression, flow from the strategy. Sounds simple enough but its amazing how often these two important, but quite independent undertakings, are confused.

Huh? It’s really easy to understand if we look at the definitions. Strategy is the ‘helicopter view’; the long-term plan; the big picture. Conversely tactics are the procedures, the stuff that has to happen ‘here and now’ in order to reach the long-term goals. They’re twins, and companies need to employ both twins: strategy is necessary to encapsulate the corporate vision, help select and envisage the big goals; tactics are those short to medium ‘stepping stones’ that must be delivered in order to execute your strategic plan. Remember my  tough but charismatic boss who hammered me about the importance of execution? Fail to execute and that’s what will likely happen- you will get hammered!

The super sixteen
Separating the two can be a challenge. Michael J Kami, who was once chief strategic planner for IBM and Xerox in their heyday, compiled a list from the ‘latest writings and statements by Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Gary Hamel, C. K. Prahalad, Michael Hammer, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Richard Pascale and a few lesser known gurus.’ Kami believes that 'despite different styles, semantics and personalities, there's an unmistakable consensus about the new road to success for a business enterprise.'

He came up with sixteen 'key strategic policies for future success'.

1. Forget the past. Most management persist in the belief that the past will be the future. It won't. The past can guide us, but strategy needs to incorporate a deep understanding of what’s happening today. More importantly it’s about where you want to go tomorrow.

2. Think global. Country boundaries are meaningless; we must, must, MUST look beyond our shores to world markets.

3. Internal change must be drastic. The world’s most continually successful companies, like IBM, Google and Microsoft, go through shake-up after shake-up for a reason: Kami says ‘One needs transformation, not reformation’. Act radically now and you can avoid crisis.

4. Base your business on knowledge and information, not things. You know that the state-of-the-art system you just invested in will be out of date even before it’s operational. Fact! Getting the most from your assets depends on the people in the business – it’s their intellectual capital that needs to be exploited.

5. Create an information-based organisation. Your strategy needs to be based on a substructure of information and communication systems that will meet both today’s and tomorrow’s needs of employees, suppliers and customers.

6. Concentrate on core competencies in your businesses. As Prahalad and Gary Hamel expounded in their 1990 article ‘Core Competence of the Organisation’, you must work out what you’re really good at, but you must also consider what can really drive your business. And then just do it.

7. Reduce organisational levels. James A. Champy, one of the founders of the management theory behind Business Process Reengineering (BPR), believes that an organisation should have no more than three layers: top management, executive management, and all the self-managers below, aided by experts. How many layers do you have?

8. Empower your employees. If you give your staff the resources and authority to make decisions and accept the responsibility that comes with them, you will create superior value. In my opinion, it’s the only sensible way to manage managers, and the best way for them to manage others.

9. Provide continuous, lifelong self-improvement programmes. AXA, the giant French insurance company, has its own university, and what about McDonald’s ‘Hamburger University’? The idea of education applies not only to acquiring the necessary fundamental expertise in order to perform a role well, but also to the ‘all-round’ skills so vital in order to improve an individual’s thinking, analytical and conceptual skills. The better ‘educated’ you and your team are, the better your business will be managed.

10. Manage talent. It is fundamental to the ongoing health and growth of your company that you attract, motivate and retain the best people you can find. I have worked for organisations that ‘talk the talk’ but most certainly do not ‘walk the talk’ in this regard. But this is only as good as the environment, development and power that these people have in your organisation. Another of my favourite bosses used to be often heard saying to his line managers that 'you are only as good as the people that work for you'.

11. Benchmark globally. Is your company as good as, or better than, the top companies inside and outside your industry – anywhere in the world? If you don’t know, you’re missing opportunities for great improvement.

12. Consider re-engineering. It may be a new word, but it’s an old idea … study your processes from start to finish and look for ways to save time and money, and improve productivity. Drop processes that seem superfluous, and if you find you have to, redesign from scratch.

13. Redefine quality standards. No matter how great the performance of your processes, your products and your services, they can always be improved.

14. Create partnerships. According to Kami, you should apply this to external relationships with 'marketeers, suppliers, distributors and subcontractors throughout the globe.' I’d extend this idea to internal partnerships, to strengthen the teams and alliances within the company.

15. Compress time. Does faster = cheaper? A quick decision will generally be better than a slow drawn out one and they’ll always be better than procrastination or doing nothing at all. Shorter cycles = money in the bank.

16. Act outside-in .What do outsiders, particularly customers and suppliers, think of your company? If you look at the business like an insider you won’t get an accurate view. Especially if you never take off your ‘rose coloured glasses.’

The gurus advise you on what stance you should adopt, and they’re right, but the reality is that none of Kami's 'key strategic policies' will actually win you advantage in the marketplace. Certainly if you do the opposite, success is virtually ruled out. Live in the past, rely only your domestic market, avoid revolutionary change and see just fast you can and will fail. 

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