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How Great Leaders Approach Strategy Formulation
Ben Bradlee, the former Executive Editor of the Washington Post, said,
"you can't make these [critical] decisions without good people around you."
There have been many successful visionary leaders and the academic community studies their strategy
formulation processes so we all can mimic their successes. The best all say surround yourself with
smart, good people.
Mintzberg, Ahlstand and Lampel in Strategy
Safari categorized these leaders approaches into ten schools about strategic thinking.
Some approaches are prescriptive with a focus on forecasting, analysis or positioning for the future;
others are descriptive, how do strategies emerge (the best of decision makers' styles, the shrewd
design of businesses, cultures, power processes); and some schools focus on how a firm reacts to
market changes during the life cycle of a business.
The Fundamental Perspective — Position, Adapt or Align
After studying my clients for many years and analyzing the best approaches the academics identified,
I have settled on three fundamental perspectives people bring when they formulate strategy: folks tend
to focus on either positioning the firm for future profits, on rapidly adapting to customers' needs
or on aligning a team to efficiently make the business perform. These perspectives create tensions
in the team: pressure to grow, the pressure to innovate, and always, the pressure to control costs.
The strategy formulation process has three fundamental critical success factors that accommodate the
tensions and blend the three perspectives: focus on the customer benefit, design a sustainable business
process and share assets. Later in the website, we'll describe the best tactics.
As a facilitator, I support leaders who craft an environment where strategy emerges from
the informed discussions between the key players who will take responsibility for the implementation. The
strategic planning process should prepare the key leaders, should rehearse them, so they act with
Studying the future is the only way I know to anticipate it, but the result is often messy, because
we just don't predict very well. I had two huge successes and one dismal failure as the leader — I
am no longer a believer that with enough study a visionary can predict the future. It is necessary
step but without involving other key players in the thought process, the team will not react fast enough
or have the patience to know when to wait. The process has to pit the positioners against the adapters
against the aligners with an slight edge to the adapters.
The Leader's Tasks