Strategy formulation is not optional

We get to spend two days with strategy consultants this week. I spent the first four years of my career as a strategy consultant and I have some perspective.

Strategy is not some task you do every once in a while as executives. Strategy formulation, implementation, testing, and revision is a daily, hourly task. The best operators in the company are deeply involved in it. Sales people are pitching your strategy, and getting data back from customers on acceptance, pricing, competitive alternatives, and unmet needs. Product people are implementing, identifying unexpected hurdles, and finding new innovations every day. Everyone is trying out competitive products, seeing competitive moves, every day.

Every day all this info needs to be processed by the org, and the strategy needs to adapt. Strategy formulation and reformulation is thus totally intermingled with operations, and the best orgs are incredibly nimble at incorporating all the daily data and evolving strategy.

Strategies created outside the operating team often fail because they are not realistic — they are not implementable, they don’t account for what is really happening in the technology or with the customers, they are uninformed by the daily competitive pressure the operating team faces. And the operating teams knows all this, and so doesn’t buy into the strategy.

While I was a strategy consultant, I was presenting some brilliantly conceived strategy to one of our senior partners, Tom. Tom had been in the consulting business a long time and had seen a jillion businesses. He listened to my presentation, and then said “this is all nice, but your strategy is what you ship”.

It was an aha moment for me that has stuck with me ever since.

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