Don't Be A Strategist

Episode 55: Don’t Be A Strategist – The Case For The Prosecution

Writing in Quartz, Kevin Delaney recently stated that he doesn’t “think anyone should have the word strategy in their job title”. Needless to say, I beg to differ. But what is the basis of the argument he articulates? What is the case for the prosecution?

The first of the two points he makes is that ‘the distance between strategy and execution is unfathomably wide for most businesses and executives. And the odds are even lower that a business will succeed in covering that distance if separate people are responsible for strategy and for operations’. He argues that this is due to the fact that strategists are divorced from the reality of the business while the operators are not invested in the strategy, and so less inclined to make its implementation a priority.

The second point he makes is that “saying a specific individual is responsible for strategy disempowers other people in the organization”. Essentially, saying that someone is tasked with strategy means that others are less likely to think and act strategically.

While the alternatives he lays out in the article are very credible (seriously, go read the article here), I would argue that it is not only important to have dedicated strategists in the organization, I believe that they deliver greater results when they are appropriately integrated into the team they support. But this is a key distinction. His argument is not wrong; too often the strategist is divorced from the execution and strategy is developed in isolation from atop an ivory tower. Further, when it is established that one person is responsible for strategy, it is easy for everyone else on the team to abdicate any strategic responsibility. The net outcome of all this is that the strategy is not implemented, any time and resources expended in its development are a waste, and the organization turns out mediocre and disjointed work as people stop thinking and focus exclusively on the execution of the task at hand.

I’ve seen these things happen repeatedly. That is what makes this a compelling argument. And that is one of the reasons I started this initiative; namely to provide perspectives on the right way to be a strategist. This is based on three fundamentals.

First, the strategist should not be solely responsible for strategy. A core part of the role of the strategist is to ask the questions of others so that they may think strategically. In other words, the role of the strategist is to act as a facilitator for strategic thinking in the organization, as opposed to being the sole source for all the ideas.

This brings us immediately to the second fundamental, which is that by facilitating ideas from others and encouraging them to think strategically, the strategist is ensuring that the implementation team is intellectually and emotionally invested in the strategy, meaning that it is more likely to be executed.

Finally, the fact that the broader team are working collaboratively on the development of the strategy, with guidance and support from the strategist, means that what is developed is not a theory that is disconnected from the rhythms of the business, but is intricately woven into the requirements of the enterprise.

You don’t need to be called a strategist to think strategically. But with the right framework and approach, I believe a strategist empowers the organization and the broader team, ensuring that the work of the collective is executed and is proven to be valuable.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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