Thursday, 5 May 2016

4 types of bad strategies, and how to avoid them

In my work as an independent strategy consultant, I come across a wide variety of strategies. Many of them are excellent and deliver fantastic results for the businesses concerns. Sadly, many others are pretty poor a leave people wondering if strategy really does add value.

In this post, I look at 4 types of bad strategies and how you can avoid them.

1. The bed-time story strategy

The bed-time story strategy is not based on any fundamental analysis of the firms strengths and weaknesses, or the the external environment in which it competes. Instead, the decision makers tell themselves stories: sometimes comforting stories to assure everyone that everything will be OK, other times tales of doom and gloom to scare everyone into toe-ing the line. When things don't work out, they console themselves by saying that the future is unpredictable, that they were unlucky, or that some invisible agent was acting against them.

The antidotes to the bed-time story strategy are rigorous analysis of a wide variety of data, seeking out dissenting opinions, scenario planning, and robust debate.

See also, for example: Analyse the business and its environment

2. The camel strategy

It is said that the camel is a horse designed by committee. Camel strategies are created by teams of strong-willed leaders who disagree on the relative importance of contradictory analysis, as well as on how the firm should respond. The resulting strategy is a cunning and carefully worded compromise in which each leader finds a home for their own view, and any difficult conversations or disagreements are subtly side-stepped. Of course, this is inevitably incredible confusing to the staff who are expected to implement it, and the customers who are expected to benefit from it. As a result, not much gets done, and no-one gets what they want: a stalemate.

The antidotes to the camel strategy, in addition to those for the bed-time story strategy, include careful facilitation to draw out the similarities and differences in world-views, and also to call out and resolve compromises and fudges.

See also, for example: Strategic Vision: Three tests

3. The fairly-tale strategy

The fairy-tale strategic is full of lofty visions, values and goals, often evangelised by a charismatic leader. However, it is typically short on specific plans for delivering them. Little action results, and the followers are left wishing upon a star and hoping their prince arrives soon to make all of their dreams come true.

The antidote to the fairy-tale strategy is two-fold. Firstly you need designers to determine what steps the organisation needs to take in order to achieve the vision and goals. Secondly you need executors to determine who needs to do what and by when, and to rally and organise people to do it.

See also, for example: How to design a Target Operating Model (TOM).

4. The cliff-hanger strategy

The cliff-hanger strategy takes you almost all of the way: sound analysis, a clear an unambigous direction, with clear goals and implementation plans. But it leaves you wondering whether the hero will prevail, because it lacks the feedback mechanisms that tell you whether the strategy is delivering the intended results or not.

The antidote to the cliff-hanger strategy is to translate all goals into SMART objectives with relevant key performance indicators ("KPIs"), and then to collect and report the data supporting those KPIs on a regular basis. Similarly, all implementation plans should be broken down into interim milestones with verifiable (and verified) deliverables. This 'close the loop' on the strategy process and ensure accountabilities are clear an upheld.


The Strategic Learning Cycle is an integrated approach to strategy development and execution which helps organisations avoid these 4 types of bad strategy, and StrategicLearningApp.com is the online collaborative environment with which teams can implement it.