Strategy, schmategy

Matthew Parris fisks an ad for Poohbah jobs at the Department for Work and Pensions

All require (the ad says) “strategic vision” the Disability Director being required to “lead and direct a portfolio of strategic policy projects” (as well as “deliver the CEHR’s mandate and cross-strand approach”) while the Director of Business Planning is “developing” “strategic policy projects” and the Foresight Director is busy identifying “key strategic objectives”.

The Director of the Commissioners’ Office, meanwhile “will fill a strategic role”; the Legal Policy Director (“working closely with external stakeholders”) will “build strategic relationships” while “leading the development” of a “legal strategy”; and the Legal Enforcement Director will ensure the CEHR “meets [its] strategic objectives”. In a text no longer than this column, one clutch of vacuities occurs again and again:

strategy/strategic: 8

policy: 9

manage/management: 10

lead/leadership: 8

Parris despairs of the language, and I must admit a similar feeling. The word strategic has become horribly abused. It often seems to be used by people who have a circle of concern (and salary package) a great deal larger than their genuine circle of influence.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a copy of David Maister’s Strategy and the Fat Smoker. (Disclosure, David sent it me as a freebie. BTW you can get a free version as a ChangeThis manifesto.) That has to rank as the best book title of the year, and so far it does much to question the role of strategy in organisations. Essentially, he says strategy is easy, implementation is tough. One chapter develops ideas from his post, Lions, Wolves, Beavers and Humans. David suggests that we can write long term strategy based on everyone collaborating… but most folks aren’t personally inclined to long term team play. And so often, that’s what strategies seems to assume: that the organisation can be made to play by the same rules, delay personal gratification in favour of collaboration. It looks like David’s going to suggest ways to get over this and make sense of strategy.

I’m wondering whether much of our efforts to create strategy, rather like cultivating leadership skills, are based on a rather idealistic notion of what really goes on in organisations. And possibly actually conceal rather than acknowledge the very individualistic expectations of the supposed strategists…

3 thoughts on “Strategy, schmategy

  1. Suw

    I think it’s a shame that otherwise useful words like “strategy” get marmalised by people who want to sound smarter than they are. In my experience, it really helps to think about what it is that you’re going to do before you actually do it, but half the time, what’s called a strategy is actually nothing of the sort.

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I talk about writing a social software strategy, I’m talking about putting together a workable plan, something that will genuinely help. I don’t think about how many meaningless, yet polysyllabic, words I can cram into a single sentence.

    Anyone who “creates synergistic strategies for realising long term goals and aligning to core values” needs to be forced to explain exactly what they mean in words of one syllable or less, else the puppy gets it.


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