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Strategy: What the Greeks Knew

September 19th, 2014

The Greeks knew it. The Trojans learned the hard way. From its political and military origins thousands of years ago through the current business climate, strategy – how to develop it, execute it, out-position your competition with it, achieve results with it – is essential to business success. Results matter more than ever to business owners and company leaders, who expect more from the strategy development process than a plan in a binder.

Ask yourself or your team about strategy, and you’re likely to uncover long-held assumptions about the process. Here are two of them:

Assumption #1:  Strategic planning is a logical, intellectual exercise. True, the strategy development process is partly logic-driven, and it’s also very much colored by emotions. Strategic planning involves people – individuals and teams who have a stake in the outcomes. Some may initially see the process in terms of an evaluation of their performance, as a challenge to the ways they’ve become accustomed to working, or as a change that alters how their value to the company is perceived.

The variations on these perceptions are as numerous as the people who hold them. When emotion-based perceptions are not acknowledged, the collaborative benefits and outcomes of strategic planning suffer. Participants can become defensive and competitive. The process can be compromised by hidden agenda, or take on a tone of risk management. These unintended consequences are avoidable. Leaders that recognize and accept strategic planning as a non-linear, often emotional process can make a significant difference in the outcomes.

Assumption #2:  Classic strategic planning is the only valid approach. Classic strategic planning emerged in the 1950’s. Assessment and analytical tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The classic approach can be effective. It’s also one of many approaches. I sat down recently with a company president to discuss his company’s upcoming planning retreat.  When I suggested that the company could consider a range of options in addition to a classic approach, he visibly relaxed and commented, “I didn’t realize we could do this in other ways.” 

The optimal approach and tools for your company depend upon a range of factors – your current business situation and market position, the personalities involved and your expected outcomes from the process. Exploring a range of approaches to strategy development can be energizing, especially if you aren’t aware that you have options. You do.

Strategic planning is big thinking about the big picture. And it’s only part of the story. Developing and implementing strategy also takes continual refocusing on the intended outcomes. Refocusing doesn’t end with the retreat, the whiteboard diagrams and the carefully bound document. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process. As the Greeks knew.