I’ve always thought of strategy as a single, focused concept. The strategy might be philosophical or there might be a concrete goal at the end of it. For example, philosophical strategies are things like “Employer of Choice.” You probably have quantitative ways of measuring “employer of Choice” but it’s primarily what I’ll call philosophical. On the other hand, there may be times when you have a strategy like “Increase Retention by 10%” which is perfectly valid depending on your business situation. Whatever the strategy, I’ve always though of it as something you strive for with single minded focus (in the unwavering sort of way).
Eric Beinhocker argues that the business marketplace is highly dynamic and unknowable. This mandates senior managers to deploy a set of competing strategies that align with various business scenarios. The hope is that one of the strategies will eventually become dominant as the nature of the business environment changes over time. ((Beinhocker, Eric, June 19, 2006. “Creating Strategy in an Unknowable Universe,” HBS Working Knowledge. Harvard Business School. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu on July 3, 2006.))
I’ll let you read the Microsoft case study on your own, but here’s an excerpt I found particularly interesting:
I once worked with a very gruff, pragmatic senior executive who claimed not to believe in strategic planning, saying that it was a bunch of “pointy-headed nonsense.” He was also very successful. He had taken a hodgepodge of industrial businesses in tough markets and managed to squeeze very good growth and margins out of them over a number of years. One day, I saw the advance materials of a strategic planning off-site and noticed that the analysis prepared by this executive and his team were by far the best in the binder.
The next day, I asked him, given that he claimed not to believe in strategic planning, why he and his team had put so much effort into the anaylsis. His reply was, “I don’t believe in planning. I do this so that we have prepared minds” … As he explained it, he and his team did not use the tools of conventional strategy analysis to make crystal ball decisions about the future. Rather, they used the tools to provide context for making real time decisions and to help them deal with all the uncertainties they knew would come their way. ((Ibid.))
Times do change, but in fact the type of strategies like “Employer of Choice” are so broad that they are not likely to change as far as philosophy goes. However, as time changes, minor adjustments need to be made. The ability for an organization to maintain the lowest turnover rates as talent shortages become more widespread may not be the critical metric. Instead, nurturing talent and simply maintaining the “Hi-Po’s” might become most important at the sacrifice of retaining everyone. The key to strategy is first alignment with the business. Unfortunately we all know that the business direction will change and then flexibility and the ability to adjust become most valuable.