7 tips ... to rethink your strategy

Professor Suvi Nenonen has seven tips for devising better strategies in business that can translate well into everyday life.

Professor Suvi Nenonen is Director of the Graduate School of Management at the Business School.
Professor Suvi Nenonen is Director of the Graduate School of Management at the Business School.

1. Fight your biases

We are all prone to cognitive biases. As a strategist, you need to be keenly aware of your biases and fight them at every turn. Was that a genuinely reliable fact or did you just fall victim to a confirmation bias, embracing information that corroborates your existing beliefs while shunning facts that would require you to rethink your world view? Is it really a good idea to continue with that project or are you a walking example of ‘sunk cost fallacy’, not wanting to accept that historical investments are not necessarily any indication of future success.

2. Don’t use the same approach every time

In strategy, it is horses for courses. The right strategic approach is largely determined by your wider context. If your environment is relatively predictable, then go ahead and use your analytical skills to figure out the best course of action. But if your context is highly unpredictable, action trumps analysis. Uncertain situations, peppered with unknowns, call for constant experimentation and the ability to learn from these experiments.

3. Separate actions from objectives

The most common way to go astray in strategy work is to mistake objectives for strategies. Strategy is not an objective. Strategy is a set of cohesive actions to achieve that objective. So, the next time someone presents an objective masquerading as a strategy such as ‘our strategy is to grow’, feel free to speak out. Life is too short for ‘strategies’ that don’t even have the basics right!

4. Question your objectives

Even though objectives are not strategies, you should pay special attention to your objectives and constructively question them from time to time. So, for example, you might want to consider if the best objective for your company is to aim for more revenue or whether a better objective might be to improve customer satisfaction. Or should you finally launch that new product or service?

5. Deliberately do nothing

We tend to have a preoccupation for action. The world is not ready yet … let’s do something! Any action is better than standing still! However, as a savvy strategist you understand that movement is not always progress. In fact, tremendous amounts of time, money and energy are wasted every year when organisations implement ‘improvements’ that do not improve anything other than the project owner’s personal key performance indicators. Sometimes doing nothing can be the best strategy.

6. Change the rules of the game

Most strategy textbooks follow the same basic formula: (1) analyse your environment and (2) create a strategy where you take advantage of the current lay of the land. But what to do if the current lay of the land is clearly out of whack – killing our planet or leaving millions impoverished? As George Bernard Shaw quipped: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Sometimes it is possible to craft truly genius strategies by being such an unreasonable (wo)man.

7. Don’t go it alone

The popular press loves stories of heroic leaders who single-handedly save the day, the organisation or even the world. However, it is much more likely that you will come up with a winning strategy if you collaborate with others. It is also quite likely that you will need the help of others – your colleagues, customers, suppliers, friends and/or family – to turn your strategy into reality. The ideal is to trust them to be part of the strategy process in the first place rather than ask them to implement a strategy they were not allowed to be part of creating and therefore don’t believe in.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Ingenio

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