It may seem that the general lack of understanding of strategy so regularly displayed by our politicians offers little of a positive nature. However, if we look at examples of their general misunderstanding they can provide great opportunities to learn and to improve how we conduct strategy in business and in our day-to-day lives.
The ‘Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia’ has made the news this week for all the right reasons. The UK really does need to up its game when it comes to tackling the poor understanding and low standards of care afforded this condition.
The aspirations and goals laid out in the document are likewise laudable and all are steps in the right direction. So, what of learning from the mistakes of politicians to the benefit of business?
I am going to focus on one general and one specific point which, if addressed in your business (or elsewhere in life) will directly lead to sounder strategy thereby greatly enhancing your chances of success.
The general point is to highlight a common misconception about strategy not confined to Westminster but regularly seen in all walks of life; that of confusing goals for strategy. The Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia lays out a number of aspirations, a pre-requisite for strategy but not the strategy itself. Yes, you need to know where it is you wish to get to, but it is in describing the journey which delivers you to that destination which is the strategy.
In fairness, nowhere in the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia does it describe itself as being a strategy, the development and delivery of the goals (the strategy) will be the responsibility of the NHS. It is David Cameron himself who confuses things when he refers to the document as such in other communications, perhaps reinforcing the view that politicians simply do not understand what strategy is.
The more specific point business (and others) can take from the document as one of learning is in one of the ‘key commitments’ listed within which define each aspiration.
Key commitment 6, Dementia-friendly communities across the country, reads:
By 2015 up to 20 cities, towns and villages will have signed up to become more dementia-friendly.
It is a fundamental requirement of good strategy that success is clearly defined, that it is specific and can be measured. This should be as true for your business as it should be for an elite sports-person, as it should be for someone aspiring to lose weight, as it should be for government.
How the government, or the NHS, will measure success on this key commitment is far from clear. There is a big difference between 20 cities and 20 villages signing up. There is an even bigger difference between 20 cities and only one village. Yet the latter measure (one village) could be included as a measure of success by the inclusion of the words “up to” in the commitment. In short, as long as someone signs up, the government can claim success on this commitment. It is hardly a commitment born of a hunger for excellence, more an acceptance that mediocrity will suffice.
Consider this when planning for your business or other aspirations in your life. How clearly, how specifically have you defined success? Are you driving excellence or accepting mediocrity?
While many of us continue to despair at the poor understanding of strategy demonstrated by our current crop of politicians, at least we can turn this to a positive by ensuring we learn lessons for our own lives from their poor performance.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012