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Defining strategy and ensuring it is consistently implemented

This out take from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook (where the full recording is available) sees Mike Baxter strategy expert and MMC’s Rene Power covers why clear strategy needs to be implemented consistently for it to work effectively and actually defining it.

It’s the second in a series of serialisations on strategy, be sure to check all new posts as they publish (or see the recommended reading below).

Rene Power:

And I know that you talk about this as almost as a crusade, don’t you? It’s one of your big words strategy as a crusade. So there’s a number of elements to your kind of thinking around this, isn’t it? And you talk about strategy solving the world’s problems.

For example, we’ve seen very good examples of that recently, not even in the business world, but generally within the world, haven’t, we?

Mike Baxter:

Strategy in action: Coronavirus

We certainly have, and I really do believe quite passionately and evangelically that strategy is not only the way to solve the world’s problems, but it’s also the way to mess up the world’s problems.

So if we look at what’s happened with the COVID-19 crisis, for example, the strategy, if we are being as generous as we can possibly be to, for example, the UK government, we would have to at least admit that their strategy changed. They have not had a single consistent strategy all the way through. They have changed.

Now, that’s not good. It’s not as though a global pandemic was a new thing. There was a lovely interview with a previous minister for health, who said in 2007, I think this was Alan Johnson. He said the first that happened to him when he became minister of health was he was sat down and told there’s going to be a pandemic. It may not be on your watch, but there is definitely going to be a pandemic. What are we going to do about that?

And it was one of the first things he was asked about when he became minister of health. So we’ve known about this for decades. We should not have had to change our strategy halfway through this pandemic. We should have had a clear strategy that then was strong enough and fit enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

But the direction of travel should have been crisp and clear, right from the word go, that would have been a good strategy.

And other things, climate changes. The other classic one. We need a strategy about climate change, and we do not need to change that over the next 30 to 50 years. We need to adapt the details of it, but we need to be clear about what we’re doing, and it might be, we’re doing nothing. We’re going to put up with several metres rise in sea levels.

That’s one possibility, but at least it’s a strategy. I’m not advocating it by the way, but we need to be clear about what it is we’re trying to do in terms of big picture, so that everybody can understand that and think about how they can make a change that starts to ripple through in this case global.

Rene Power:

Strategy definition

Obviously a lot of work goes into having that clarity of mission, vision and often, I do a lot of work with branding and positioning and you get down to that final phrase or that statement that encapsulates where an organisation wants to be or how it wants to be perceived in the future. And there’s an awful lot of work that’s been cooked into that to arrive at that point.

So in terms of maybe making a definition of strategy as clear as we can, I sometimes oversimplify it and talk about deciding on a thing that you want to arrive at a particular point in the future, then all the activities and actions are designed to kind of move you in steps towards that.

Now it may never be something that you ultimately achieve a hundred percent but it’s something that is a driving force. What would you say your definition of it is if you’re asked to kind of say you know give a few comments on what strategy is?

Mike Baxter:

Yes sure. Well, I quite liked the idea of a destination. That it is a vision of either a place or a set of characteristics at some point in the future that we want to get to. And the key about that is, of course it might not be a place we’re going to get to anyway, if we just keep doing what we’re doing now.

So the thing that many people miss is that strategy is a specification for change. And if it’s not going to change, I try and weed out many, many senior leaders strategies, which have, and we’ve got to keep doing this as well as we’re doing it now. Well, that’s not to be in the strategy that there are plenty other places for managing business as usual. And making sure that business as usual continues to be effective and efficient. It’s not strategy.

Strategy is about change

Strategy is about what are we going to change? What is going to be different from our current business as usual. And that can be specified by a destination that we wouldn’t otherwise get to unless we made a concerted effort to do it, but that still misses out two things that I think are critical for strategy. The first is why.

So you want to get to that destination? Why? What’s the benefit? Is it just going to make shareholders rich? Is going to save the planet? I it going to make us a better organisation? Is it going to make our customers more loyal? Is it going to mean we can charge higher prices?

So we don’t just need to know the destination. We need to know the volume of getting to that destination as well. Because even if we had to change the destination slightly, as for example, we have had to, in many organisations with the COVID crisis, you would not want to change the benefits that derive from that destination. They should remain true.

The other bit that we need to know is it fine saying I want to get there, but we need to know a little bit about how.

So, what is the handful of core methods that we’re going to use to get there? So we want to get to a particular place. How are we going to get there? Is it mostly going to be, to do with product? Is it mostly going to do with retraining people? Is it going to be some glorious, digital transformation? Is it going to be that we’re simply going to spend more on marketing?

So we need to know a bit about the house as well as the destination as well as the whys.

Rene Power:

It’s very interesting. I really love some of those things you’ve said that because for me as a career marketer, it’s got to be customer-centric. It got to be value-adding.

You can have an internal strategy that says we want to be the market leading number one software, whatever, is in this particular market, but you’re right. The why and the how sometimes lost and you get this kind of confused external positioning that’s a little bit internally facing as well.

And the net effect is it’s you do often questions sometimes. What are the motivations of some of these senior leaders in these organisations? So you’re absolutely right.

There’s so many great things that you talked in there about the destination, the value, the why, the how and core methods. It’s really good stuff. And we’ll probably come back and unpack a lot more of that in a future session I think.

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Recommended further reading

Part 1: Understanding what strategy is and how to create strategy that means something to people who have to implement it

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Why the T-shaped marketer is a critical thing to understand for your career and development 

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