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Interview for the University of Southern Indiana

Last Summer, I participated in a video interview with Sonia Garcia-Webb from the University of Southern Indiana, in preparation for their use of in their MBA strategy course.

One thing I learned from the experience is that I probably don't have a bright future in broadcast TV! The very far below eye-level camera angle certainly does not help! However, I've posted the video below, and then included a summary of the discussion points below that.

How did come about?
  • I realise that I spent most of my working life helping clients to be more effective and/or efficient and that this often involved deploying technology to improve things. However, I realised I was not seeing the same improvements in the way strategy itself is done. We still rely on large Powerpoint decks and Word documents, which we email to each other. We waste a lot of time managing versions and coordinating updates.  I realised it was not a solution I could ever recommend to a client.
  • I start thinking about what a better solution might be. Over time I started building components of that solution and using them in my own consulting work.
  • Eventually, I realised I had a usable solution which I could package up and share with other people. That led to the launch of StratNavApp.
  • The result is:
    • A freemium SaaS solution which doesn't require a download and so is easy to use and manage.
    • Based on a superset of StratML, the ISO standard for strategic and performance plans, giving it a robust foundation.
How does assist people to develop and execute strategies?
  • I think most people start using StratNavApp thinking it is just a collection of useful templates encompassing strategy development and execution best practice.
  • Whilst most people engaged in strategy are familiar with the underlying models, my experience is that many don't really understand how the models interact with each other to produce a coherent flow of logic leading to a well-formulated strategy.
  • Because StratNavApp is built on top of an integrated project repository, it is able to make those links explicit and actionable.
  • In fact, as much as StratNavApp can highlight the flow of logic, it can also highlight any gaps or misalignments in the logic. In my own consulting work it often helps me to identify where I have attempted to shortcut the process and then got it wrong, and then it helps me to fix it again.
  • Lastly, one of the big criticisms of strategy is that it is usually an annual process, which results in a thick document which is immediately out date and sits gathering dust on a shelf until the next annual process. Because StratNavApp is an ongoing collaboration all the way from analysis to monitoring the results of delivering the strategy, it never becomes a 'dead document' and the built-in feedback mechanism makes strategy more of an ongoing process.
What do you think challenges clients most in developing and executing strategy?
  • I think that the biggest challenge is not the strategy discipline itself, assuming the people you are working with are properly trained and educated.
  • The first challenge is 'articulation' - a lot of what gets passed off as strategy is really high-level and vague. It reads well, but it lacks enough substance to be executable. Execution becomes like 'trying to nail jelly to the wall'. This is usually because a lack of confidence in the insights, or because people avoid conflict by falling back on 'artfully vague' wording which covers over the underlying disagreements. The way that the tools are strung together in StraNavApp makes it harder to do this.
  • The second big challenge is 'stakeholder management' - strategy tends to be decided amongst senior executives who are usually very intelligent and headstrong but who have different worldviews having had different career experiences. Strategy involves change, and change inevitably creates winners and losers (or even just bigger winners and smaller winners). Winning and losing has real consequences for individuals in terms of prestige and pay. So whilst we think strategy is a rational process, it is clouded by power-political self-interest.
What advice do you give students learning about strategy?
  • For me, a key driver is curiosity coupled with a 'disrespect' for boundaries.
  • When you start your career you typically have a job with prescribed boundaries.
  • Why I think I ended up in strategy is because I was always curious about how my role related to things outside of that boundary.
  • I think as a strategist, you need to be a specialist in the discipline of strategy, but also have the curiosity of a generalist wanting to understand how all the other disciplines work together to achieve success. 
Many thanks to Sonia for recording the interview and allowing me to publish it.

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