Collaboration is a strategy. So, it only works as it should when it is approached as a strategy. But how we approach strategy is an even larger question. Over the years I have taken part in strategic planning in a range of capacities. Some I led myself, in others I was one of many participants trying to forge a way through a maze of views, arguments, debates and so on. Strategies can be designed well but rarely are. Businesses fail all the time and often it is because the strategy was not right.
What is it about strategy that so many business managers get wrong? That, in all honesty, is a subject too large for a short blog post. Nevertheless, I am inclined to make one or two points based on my experience.
First is the simple issue of attitude. Strategy planning does not engage people. It requires a special form of thinking that most people feel uneasy about. In strategy planning there is very little repetition, which people need in order to avoid the fatigue that comes with hard thinking. The strategic planning process is mostly broken into time slots that are facilitated by an external consultant, a nominated internal manager, or a combination of both. Employees are provided, in most cases, with a set of guidelines and rules. All this makes it easier for the process to flow. But it does little for quality thinking – the kind of thinking necessary for a good strategy to emerge.
We do not understand that strategic planning is less a planning and more a ‘composing’ endeavour. A big difference! Planning makes us ask a lot of questions too soon in the process of strategic thinking. Instead of seeking to better understand the business environment, we all too eagerly skimp over that and launch into asking questions. People are largely impatient when they try to develop a strategic plan. Instead of getting it right, they are often more interested in the ‘getting a result on time’ schedule that guides the strategic planning process. Business managers are understandably wary of the costs associated in developing a strategic plan, specifically the cost of time invested. And the money paid to consultants. That is the most common, and in my view one of the most unforgiving, mistakes businesses make! I have lost count of how many businesses across industries try to be efficient in creating good strategy only to then literally waste money on remedies such as PR, marketing campaigns, restructuring and consulting, all with a vague attempt to salvage losing business.