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5 Proven Principles for Developing Strategy

 Sep 28, 2018 11:00 AM
by Bob McCulloch

Developing strategy is an important and ongoing process that all successful organizations undertake. But how do you go about developing “good” strategy? And how can you keep it from becoming an all-consuming task? I hear these questions often, and recommend these 5 proven principles:

  1. Start with the “what” and the “why.” The first task of the senior leadership team is to establish the next desired end state – three to five years out – along with why this is important to the organization and its stakeholders. With this in hand, the team moves to establish the “how,” including the initiatives to achieve the “whats,” the supporting structures required, and the leadership culture that will make it all happen.
  2. Culture beats strategy every time. Regardless of the elegance of the vision and the strategy, it’s people who make it a reality. They need leadership, as well as confidence in that leadership. It’s the primary role of the leadership team to shape and nurture the organization culture that will implement the strategy.
  3. Leadership is a team sport. While many initiatives succeed on the strength of individual leadership, increasingly in large organizations the combined talents of multiple leaders is required to ensure success. As a “team sport”, this means there needs to be a “game” – with its intent, success measures, rules of behaviour – and a common goal or purpose, along with the right collective talent to succeed.
  4. The brilliance is within. For most organizations, the answers to all the strategic questions lie within the talent that exists in the organization. While “outsiders” can provide useful questions and suggestions, it’s the people responsible for making the strategy a reality that hold the keys for success.
  5. Learning happens best in the context of doing. One of the tenets of strategy execution is that it’s “continuous improvisation on a general sense of direction.” If you’re executing meaningful strategy, you can’t get it all “right” ahead of time; you have to learn and adjust as you go along. You get started, then get good at observing, understanding, and improvising.

Developing the best strategy for your organization is rarely easy. By approaching it with these principles in mind, you can create a focused, effective strategy that will serve you well into the future.


Bob McCulloch is a Co-founder and Principal with Strategic Retreats. He is a strategic advisor and executive coach to senior leaders and their teams. His clients represent companies across a wide array of industries as well as all levels of government and several not-for-profit organizations and associations. 

Strategy, Strategic Thinking, Strategic Planning, Strategy Execution, Governance  



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