How strategic is your strategy? Over the last three decades I have interacted with thousands of leaders and their teams at both organisational and personal levels as their coach. One glaring revelation is that many times when I ask people about their strategy what they give me are their goals and targets.
Question: “What is your strategy for this company?” The response will often be, “we plan to be more customer-centric.” I pause waiting for more and that finally turns out to be a roll call of the targets they intend to meet.
In many strategy sessions, the conversation centres around goals. Then it occurred to me that many people confuse goal setting for strategy sessions. This explains why, after much money has been spent on expensive strategy setting retreats, nothing much really happens and the problems remain the same.
A word that is very commonly thrown around these days is the word transformation. Every company or government that I have worked with has a transformation agenda and their strategy is designed to implement this agenda. Right there we see it again. The strategy is a goal setting procedure.
For this reason, they come back year after year and just change the session theme but in reality, it is no different from the session they had the year before. They are setting goals, not hammering out strategy.
But what does the word Transformation mean? I keep repeating this over and over because people just don’t get it.
Trans means across. This is seen in words like trans-Sahara or trans-Atlantic which means across the Sahara or across the Atlantic. Similarly, transform means across forms or from one form to another. When an egg becomes a butterfly, it has gone through a transformation.
One form was the egg, then the caterpillar, the pupa and finally the butterfly. A lot of what we call transformation is nothing more than excessive activity within the same form.
If transformation has truly happened, our problems will be different.
For decades in Nigeria, there have been campaign pledges against corruption and indiscipline. Each administration pledges to curb corruption yet it seems to get more ingrained in the system. Successive administrations have been unable to deliver on this promise.
Transformation has not happened despite all the money spent on strategy sessions to effect it. Year in year out, the corruption problem in Nigeria has remained and grown.
People elected President Buhari because as a military leader in the eighties, he was a tough no-nonsense general and people expected he would use this to put an end to the corruption and insecurity that has so destroyed the country. Now as he gets to the end of his term, corruption is worse and the economy is in the worst state that we have ever seen.
To develop a real strategy that will work certain fundamentals will differentiate what you are doing from goal setting. The first of these is to define the picture of success. Buhari talked of fighting corruption and insecurity but never really gave us a picture of what a corrupt-free Nigeria would look like.
Vague declarations never get people to predetermined destinations.
Second, he never revealed the obstacles to a corruption-free destination. Clearly, the biggest obstacle is absence of consequences for those who had been caught in the past. There were no deterrents to corruption because everyone gets away with it. In fact, the message being communicated by the political elite is that corruption gets rewarded.
While the goal was a corrupt-free Nigeria, the strategy should have been to strengthen the Judiciary and make it truly independent while parliament draws up stiff penalties.
It was not rocket science. In some nations, all it took to blast corruption, was for some senior politicians to be thrown in jail for long periods of time.
Many people today and I dare say the bulk of leaders are going about strategy like Buhari. Their strategy is nothing more than a declaration and celebration of set goals. Until you identify the challenges you have to overcome and develop a plan of action, you may think you are developing strategy but in reality you are simply goal setting.
Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks; [email protected]