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Think Strategy… Think Risky Assumptions

January 26, 2012

Do you remember the negative definition of assumption?  You know the
definition invoked, usually after some sort of disaster, in which if you are
holding the bag your superior says, “How could this have happened?” and you
say something like you assumed. and then they say, “Assume stands for making
an ass out of you and me.”  Now do you remember?

Well, you’ll be a long way forward in this turbulent world if you consider
strategy to be hopelessly riddled with assume.  It’s like they are bed partners,
and you can act like it isn’t true, but every strategy is built on assumptions.

What should you do?

Some people give up on strategy, just keep doing whatever works, or whatever
their hunch or proclivity is, and hope the “river doesn’t rise” until they make
enough money to get out of the  game.

What should you do?

Yea, what should you do, especially if you would like to be strategic, and not
just do what worked last year, or chase after the opportunity of the moment?

The McKinsey Quarterly produced an article entitled Just-in-Time Strategy
for a Turbulent World
, which suggests you can’t know the future, so the best
strategy is to hedge your bets with a portfolio of strategic goals.

Hedging your bets makes sense anytime you are betting on assumptions, but
when I read this,  I know what most corporate leaders do with this message.
That’s right, they assume, they’ve got the risk managed with multiple options.

So let me be clearer about what dealing realistically with the reality of assumptions
being in bed with your strategy.  It’s all about the need to check.  The article
in McKinsey describes it with the phrase, “Rigorous monitoring is crucial”, but
I don’t think that gets to an emotional level that connects.  So let me frame
it a different way.

Imagine if you are a guy, and you’re wearing pants that have a zipper that
has been previously known to slip, in fact it has already slipped once today
and someone snickered.  Would you check?  Of course you would.

(source www.sodahead.com)

Or if you are a woman and you’re wearing a low cut top, do you check to see
that everything is in place and not slipped?  You bet.

So we are used to handling some risks by checking regularly, especially if there’s�
a risk of personal embarrassment.

Transfer that same feeling, that same sense of possible embarrassment and sense
of exposure, to your strategy and suddenly you have a whole new perspective
on what it means to have a strategic plan.  It’s something you need to check
on repeatedly and respond if something has slipped!

That’s the correct perspective to have when it comes to strategy.   That’s
my translation of McKinsey’s statment, “The hallmark of this approach
is the willingness to change direction continually as more and more distinct
knowledge appears.”

BTW, the McKinsey article has a few suggestions worth reviewing, but for a
specific “do these four steps” grab my simple ebook on how to create and
manage a strategic plan.  You can get it here –http://rodneybrim.com/info/ebooks
and find out why the 4 key components are 1. Relevance, 2. Actionated,
3. Reviewed via Metrics and 4. the Right technology to link strategy to
the front lines.

Bottom Line:
A strategy is at best a set of assumptions about an uncertain future. 

Reduce your risk of having the wrong strategy by diversifying, and by repeatedly
checking with the willingness to test regularly, and when the results aren’t there,
rethink, shut down and start anew.  For most of us the biggest change is to
form the habit of checking, and then checking again.  Just think about zippers
and you’ll get better at checking in 2012.

Reviving Your Strategic Plan
Strategic Planning Leadership

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