What’s in a strategy?

Don’t you hate it when you (and the team around you) spend hundreds or thousands of man-hours to build a strategy and go through the process of getting it agreed to, funded and committed, only to then have the entire playing field changed.

This seems to be the way in which business works these days. A business unit within a large corporation will be asked to grow their business and they all go off to work out the best possible way to do it.

You assume either no increase in budget or an increase in-line with the requested growth target.

You spend the time to build a detailed market analysis, spending a lot of money on external consultants and analysts, focus groups, surveys and meetings.

You meet with all the areas of your business, from sales, marketing, development, finance, procurement, public relations, etc. And get a consensus as to what is going to be delivered.

The plan is built. Graphs are prepared, Spreadsheets are created, a forecast is calculated, decisions are made on where investment will be made, and where things can be paired back.

And the plan is presented, agreed to, blessed and becomes the plan of record… the strategic plan.

And then every single time, it happens! The rules are changed. Budgets are cut, a new idea is brought into the mix, and everyone has to shuffle around. The strategic plan is put to the side and everyone scrambles to deal with this new reality.

And in case you didn’t realize it; that is exactly why the product you just bought doesn’t work as expected.

Why that new camera has a really annoying menu structure.

Why your computer keeps asking you to click okay to accept things that are not important,

Why you keep hitting your knee on that button in the wrong place in your car,

Why the new maps on your new whizzy phone don’t work well,

Why government forms are so complex,

Why the best laid plans of smart, creative, experienced teams never quite turn out as planned.

And that is why dictatorial leaders, (who are often considered to be terrible people managers) save the day. When you look at the best products, they tend to come from companies that are lead by founders, people who grew with the business and deeply understand the long game.

Who would disagree that Ford was most innovative when Henry was in charge.

Sony under the guidance of Masaru and Akio,

Polaroid when Edwin set the direction,

Disney when run by Walt,

HP with Bill and Dave were at the controls,

Touchscreen in the 1980’s…

Apple with Steve,

the list goes on.

I’m not saying that companies have to fail when the founders leave, just that there is something special that a founder brings to a company. It’s a mix of totalitarian dictatorship along with passion for the business and with the experience of success and failure. They may sometimes be bastards, but they have a vision that includes their customer’s needs and the abilities of their own team.

When the ultimate leader of a business is deeply involved in the development and execution of a strategy, there isn’t that need to keep changing direction. And this allows companies to bring out the best products.

It doesn’t need to be a founder, but it does need to be someone who knows a business inside and out. Understands the culture, the customers the products and the market.

You know when a product comes from a company like this, because it just does what you need and doesn’t annoy you in lots of tiny ways.

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