Monday, July 25, 2011

Strategy 101: What Are Your Objectives?

It is generally accepted that any strategic intention requires a number of things, not the least of which are measurable outcomes and objectives.

As Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, notes:

Sound strategy starts with having the right goal.

What About Democrat and Republican Strategy?

As I observe the Democrat and Republican exchanges with bemusement, concern and sadness and I listen to their saber rattling regarding the debt ceiling, spending reductions and such, I can’t help but wonder about their respective objectives and wonder if they are in alignment with the needs of the American people.

I wonder if they have any at all.

From a strategy advisor perspective, the goals proposed look more like reactive tactics than proactive strategies.

A proactive strategy would require that we define realistic stretch goals that contain measurable outcomes; measurable meaning that by date x we know we have achieved our strategic intentions based on some predefined, quantifiable, qualifiable criteria.

But I don’t see this in the debate on the Hill at all.

What I see is a call to increase the debt ceiling to allow for fuzzy spending while the other party seeks a hazily defined collection of spending cuts.

Neither side seems to understand (or at least want to share with the American people) what the impact will be of either of these self-described “strategies”.

Why Should This Worry Us?

The scary reason why they don’t share the potential impact is probably because they don’t know what the result will be and this should really concern us.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke even admitted a couple of weeks ago that he doesn’t know why the economy is not working the way it should.

And so despite historical evidence that our current economic models do not work, we continue to rely on reactive tactics, taking action only when the pain requires us to while hoping that our random actions will somehow fix everything as if by magic.

We don’t even know how we got here in the first place so how can we be so confident of our proposed solutions?  Meanwhile, our debt grows larger, despite promises by many elected officials for many decades that “we have it under control”.  If we really knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t have the current economic conditions that we have.

But how can we know what we are doing when we don’t set out with measurable outcomes, when we don’t compare current execution against those measurable outcomes and when we don’t have plans in place to make minor adjustments to our outcomes or strategy as needed, instead of waiting until the last minute when disaster is a heartbeat away.

Why Do Leaders Avoid Strategy?

Many organizations that fail do so because they do not know how to create a strategy from which a roadmap can be created – a roadmap that shows you how to get from here to there with some semblance of confidence.

Many leaders say that it takes too much effort, that it is better to just “dive in”.  Some say that it is too difficult to figure out the outcome, that it will become easier to know where we are going once we are closer to the destination.

That’s like saying I’m going to drive from New York City to San Diego - I know it takes 5 days to do so but I will start out without a map and in 5 days I will look out the window and see if I have arrived and adjust my driving behavior accordingly.

Strategy – The Benefit of Accountability

One of the greatest benefits to a strategy with measurable outcomes is that it keep us accountable.

Unfortunately, it takes real courage and authenticity to allow ourselves to be held accountable.

More courage and authenticity than many self-described “leaders” have.

And when our leaders refuse to embrace accountability and measurable outcomes, the primary stakeholders, whether they be shareholders, voters or any other interested party, have to demand something better.

As Winston Churchill noted:

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

When you look at the results, then you will REALLY know how beautiful the strategy is and how effective the leadership is … or not.

As I observe the goings-on on Capital Hill, I wonder if the strategy embraced looks more like actor Ben Kingsley’s strategy for finding new roles:

I honestly have no strategy whatsoever. I'm waiting for that script to pop through the letterbox and completely surprise me.

Without Strategy, Failure is Inevitable

We can wait and hope that the right solution magically appears.

However, if that is the strategy, I fear we will run out of time long before that happens.

The oil light on the dashboard of our planet has just illuminated.  That’s ok – we can cover it up with a piece of tape.

Meanwhile, the low gas light has just illuminated.  No problem – wherever we travel, we need to make sure we are going downhill with a strong tailwind to help keep us going.

Ah, but now the brakes are squealing really loudly.  That’s why we have a radio – we just turn it up and the problem disappears.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately being reactive while avoiding reality is not going to get us where we need to go much longer, despite our intention to pretend otherwise.

In service and servanthood,



Addendum: July 17, 2012

It feels like only yesterday that I wrote this.  How are we doing a year later?  Take a look at this blog – “Democrats: Kicking Our Butt Instead of Kissing It” and this interesting analysis of Ben Bernanke’s results a year later. 

I told you so brings no comfort when our future is at stake.

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