Richard Rummelt, in Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, opened my eyes to a simple test to help you see if you have effective strategic initiatives. But before I describe the test here’s some context.
Crafting a strategy involves choosing a course of action to achieve desired outcomes over a set time period. An effective strategy makes real choices between competing approaches–as well as providing space for new possibilities to emerge. For example a company’s might want to increase its market share. It might do this by increasing sales, buying competitors, expanding its geographic market or a myriad of other approaches. The strategic craft is to decide which approach to choose or combine and apply. There are always more than one way to achieve your desired outcomes and your strategy should describe the choices your company has made. A good choice is usually a well considered and often tough choice.
What you will often see, however, in most strategic plans, are initiatives that don’t reflect a real choice. Here are a few examples:
We will provide great customer service–was there really a choice to provide poor customer service?
We will delight our clients–had we considered underwhelming them?
Empower our employees–not many companies succeed disempowering their employees no matter how many try
What are often portrayed as strategic initiatives are really the outcomes we are hoping to achieve. They don’t reflect what we’ve decided to do and therefore don’t provide an effective strategy.
So, the test is simply this: take a strategic initiative and consider the opposite. If the opposite is a nonsense then reconsider your strategic initiative and make a real choice. If, on the other hand, the opposite is a viable possibility then a real choice has been made, in which case employees will want to know why and that’s where a strategic story is important.
I like to call this test of considering the opposite the Costanza gambit after the Seinfeld character who successfully employs the opposite as his new strategy for life. Check out this 3 minute clip of the show where George Costanza has his epiphany.