Your Platitudes Are Showing

Strategic platitudes can ruin your day.

 

Have a look at these:

“We’re going to be number 1 or number 2 in our markets.”

“We’re going to double the size of the company!”

“We’re going to focus on M&A as our growth driver.”

“We’re going to build a growth engine in our product development department.”

“We’re going to out-compete our competitors.”

Ever hear any of these articulated as “our strategy?”  Probably.  Maybe in your own company, today.

They are the chunks in the chunky soup of management platitudes.  You hear them and their derivatives at all times.

Let’s take them apart…

“We’re going to be number 1 or number 2 in our markets.”

This is a bastardization of an old portfolio management philosophy most famously articulated in the U.S. by General Electric.  It was and is a good one, in my opinion.  But, one cannot confuse a portfolio management philosophy (which is strategy at one level) with a strategic plan for a business.  Yet you hear people ripping off Jack Welch, even today, and claiming it as a strategy for a business.

You want to be number 1 or number 2?  Okay, fine.  How?  That’s where strategy comes in.

“We’re going to double the size of the company!”

This one has been strewn across management thinking in the worst of ways. Put simply, “growth” is not a strategy.  It’s not a strategy for a portfolio and certainly not for a given business.  In fact, anyone who articulates strategy as “we’re going to grow” is only slightly removed from the guy who says his strategy for winning the football game is to “score more points than the opponent.”  It’s a nice notion and definitely a metric, but it isn’t going to determine the concept of your passing or ground game.

 “We’re going to focus on M&A as our growth driver.”

This one is especially dangerous because of the implications it brings with it.  Focusing on M&A as a tool for growth is ok.  It really is.  Plenty of companies allocate capital to acquisitions all day long and book the growth.  But, let’s be clear, acquired growth without a coherent strategic philosophy is a loser’s proposition.  In the 1970’s, AMF Corporation made motorcycles and bowling pins. Its management team walked itself into a non-performing corner by acquiring indiscriminately.  It died a slow death as all of its pieces were sold off in the ’80s and beyond.

M&A as a “strategy” implies that the current business is played out.  It lets management give itself a free pass on growing the existing business. Why would any board allow that?  M&A is not a strategy any more than “sales” is a strategy.  M&A is a tool in the toolkit of an effective management strategist.

“We’re going to build a growth engine in our product development department.”

This one is interesting because it presents a competitive advantage as a strategy.  Competitive advantages are great.  But, they aren’t strategy.  Strategy is direction, focus, resourcing, and value delivery.  Anybody who tells you their strategy is to invest in a competence needs to be asked whether the competence links to actual value delivery.  Building an asset is nice, but remember, an asset delivers cash.

“We’re going to out-compete our competitors.”

I threw this one in there for good measure.  Strategies that assume harder work than the competition are legion.  I mean that.  “Hard work” is not a strategy.  Neither is “focus.”  Yet we see these sorts of platitudes trotted out as components of a strategy.  We are going to work harder than the competition!  Sure, whatever. The competitor is a competitor because they are already in your market. What makes you think it’s a good idea to imply to yourself or your organization that the competition doesn’t work as hard as you?

Strategic management is hard.  To muck it up with low worth slogans and platitudes is to distract from the mission.

What do you do when your platitudes are showing?

 

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