The three cardinal sins of strategy

Credit: The Wolf of Wall Street

John was running late for the board meeting and had a bad feeling about the whole thing. He had completed hundreds of strategies over the years as part of the prestigious big 3 strategy consultancies, and this was no different.

So why the stomachache? He mentally ticked off the seven steps in his battle tested strategy approach, but it did not help his sinking feeling. True, they had spent almost 8 months on getting this right, but he had done every analysis, the board had asked, and if they signed off today, the town hall announcement would go ahead in just a month. What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe it was that annoying article on LinkedIn with some less than 10-year-old company combining strategy and behavioral economics. Sure, it made sense to remove our systematic irrationality from big decisions. Sure, they had the same top tier background as himself. Sure, the big 3 did recognize the problem themselves almost 15 years ago and the solution was a matter of process, but how bad could it be? Well devastating according to them.

Despite his already stressed day he decided to revisit the article and the company together with his team. He asked his second in command Jane – a top consultant from his own former company and probably on a faster track than himself – to review the material right away and present her findings an hour later to the whole team. There was no room for error in the board presentation!

Half an hour later Jane wild eyed grabbed him from a meeting: “John, we got to talk – now.” She quickly went through her findings and confirmed his worst suspicions. His stomach went all cold. What could they do? Was there time?

Then his analytical brain kicked in. They had made three major mistakes. Nothing different from all the other strategy projects, but he had to focus on today’s one.

Firstly, they had focused on the analytical part of the process only. He felt confident about their analyses and conclusions, but they had not gone beyond the immediate albeit many ideas from the board and the strategy team. If the article was right, they were highly likely to have missed out on several potential roads – and probably killed quite a few more in the process, because the board were not focused on them. He could think of a least two areas, where he would have liked to explore more. Damn!

Secondly, they had spent almost 8 months on this. Yes, that was a couple months more than normal, but nothing crazy. But the article was arguing 2-3 months. 2-3 months! Impossible! Yet, their argument was that without that speed, people zip in and out of the process forgetting the exact issues and how they relate to each other. And because a strategy process is a set of closely interrelated decisions, then without coherence they fall apart. He had noticed this many times in the past and always considered it an unavoidable casualty. He was not sure, that he could get the work down to even 3 months in general – let alone in this project!

Finally, they had separated strategy from implementation. Pretty obvious right? Wrong if you read the article. Implementation starts on day 1. Fancy catch phrase he thought, but some of the points were pretty intriguing. For example, if you start telling the story about your strategy journey alongside it happening with frequent updates, then you will remove a lot of the irrational resistance by the time, you are ready to launch. Or involving role models from the departments, that would have to change. He was never a big fan of that, but the idea that when people are in doubt, they look to their role models, was compelling. A whole bag full of new tools. His head was spinning.

So, all good points but what should he do with his career on the line here in the 11th hour before the board meeting…?

Catch the rest of the cliffhanger next week, read the other articles to learn what John can do or contact or +45-23103206 for a fast track to the end…

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