In simple terms, a strategy is an overarching plan to achieve a vision through a skilful interplay of ends, ways and means. Ends are the goals or objectives which must be realised to achieve the vision; means are the resources available to pursue these ends and ways are the most efficient and effective methods for application of resources. From its initial military-centric usage to define the 'Art of the General' in ancient Greece, strategy has acquired, over the years, a universal acquiescence with a much wider scope. Since the 18th century, strategy has enabled countries to protect, pursue and promote their national interests and helped public and private sector organisations realise their long-term goals and visions.
Winning strategies provide clear pathways for achieving goals by assigning strategic and operational roles, apportioning resources, eliciting accountability and putting in place an architecture for monitoring and risk management. Based on a detailed, prognostic appraisal of the environment, these are crafted through an interactive and distributed process. Such a methodology ensures that the aspirations of all segments and sub-systems of the organisation are factored into the strategy-planning process through collective wisdom. It also helps develop ab initio ownership of various prongs of the strategy besides enhancing accountability. Winning strategies are supplemented by directives, doctrines and procedures which help in decision-making and regulate the behaviour of all members of an organisation.
Although winning strategies are tailor-made to attain specific goals and visions, they possess inbuilt flexibility that facilitates necessary tweaking, thus keeping them relevant in an ever-changing environment and helping them evolve, based on experience and emerging trends. They also help strategic leaders readjust or augment the resources and realign the techniques and methods required for their application. Therefore, winning strategies are a product of strategy by intent and strategy by default. Based on informed choices, strategic intent spells out the mission and allows subordinate leaders the freedom to exercise initiative within an articulated strategic framework. On the other hand, default strategy brings in changes dictated by circumstances and, at times, even by preferences, biases, concerns and unconscious assumptions of the senior leadership. A review of various prongs of the strategy, preferably on a half-yearly basis by the senior leadership, helps ensure the right blend.
Besides monitoring its prongs, the framework for strategy implementation must also facilitate mission-related monitoring of internal and external environments. It enables strategic leaders to sustain the desired organisational culture and helps them shape the external environment and manage risks proactively. Although this monitoring is specific to each enterprise, some common aspects that merit attention are detailed information about competitors, including their strategies, strengths and weaknesses, emerging global trends and best practices, advances in technology, government policies, public opinion and market sentiments, internal health of the enterprise, impact of climate change and so on. Also, organisations must start taking climate change more seriously as it will increasingly impact the availability of resources, disrupt supply chains and eventually, unhinge even the best of strategies.
Internal monitoring ensures accountability and, consequently, timely attainment of objectives. It also helps gauge the levels of contentment, confidence and camaraderie. No strategy can ever succeed without the enthused and committed involvement of human capital. A healthy internal environment fostered through ethical management helps ensure high levels of morale and motivation. Leaders must diligently invest in the professional growth of their subordinates and guide them in fulfilling their assigned roles and realising their self-actualisation needs. Equal opportunities should be provided to all members of the team to exhibit their worth. The tendency to rely only on a few favourites creates negative vibes and vitiates the internal environment. In the long run, it impedes the tempo of operations and precludes timely attainment of objectives. Senior leaders should institute ingenious measures to discern signs of mismanagement. Institutionalised mechanisms of reporting invariably fail to highlight ground realities as leaders at various levels of the organisation are part of the problem.
Strategic risk management is an integral part of winning strategies. In the fast-paced, disruptive and turbulent environment of the current century, risks can manifest speedily in a multitude of areas. A more comprehensive approach that goes beyond the traditional operational, financial and regulatory risks is necessary to keep the strategy on track. Anything which has the potential to impinge on the smooth attainment of strategic objectives and goals must be factored into risk management plans. Risks regarding the security of personnel, material, operations, finances, information, cyberspace and processes should be analysed in detail to determine the probability of their occurrence along with the cascading effects they could create. The risk management architecture should include risk mitigation measures and processes, risk prevention tools and tactics, and finally, contingency plans to deal with risks when they cannot be prevented. Contingency and disaster recovery plans should be updated and practised regularly.
Implementing strategy while dealing with risks requires decisive leaders, who can keep their cool and make wise decisions in a chaotic and nerve-racking environment. The power of data and technology, including artificial intelligence, should be optimally harnessed for decision-making, capacity maximisation and influencing internal and external environments. However, given the challenges of a dynamic strategic arena, it may not be prudent to base critical decisions entirely on the inputs from programmed machines. Decisions at the highest level, given their far-reaching ramifications, must be creative, innovative and vetted through emotional intellect and a sense of belonging. While both art and science are leveraged in strategy formulation and execution, strategic leaders must never forget that in the final analysis, it is the art that subsumes science and not the other way round. The supremacy of the human mind must persist in the domain of strategic decision-making.