Some Reflections On Good Strategy

The author, at UCD Smurfit
The author, at UCD Smurfit

What is Good Strategy?

These points come from my notes from listening to a lecture by Prof. Pat Gibbon of UCD Smurfit Business School in Dublin during the Executive Edge day in May 2014.

  • Good strategy begins with a clear diagnosis (widely accepted) of the real current condition of the business. If there is nothing painful then this is strategy driven by internal politics, not strategy driven by a determination to be the best company, team that we can be.
  • Good strategy clearly articulates the challenges (big potholes on our path).  If there are no scary challenges, then it is not good strategy.  There are dangers out there that can kill your business.  If you are not vigilant, the bugs and the weeds will take over the garden.
  • From "Walking the Talk" Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives
    From “Walking the Talk” Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives

    Good strategy covers “Ideology” – There is an answer to “who are we?”  As people, as leaders? Michael O’Leary shows that “cheap” can win – but has to be lived by the full organisation. It is not enough to live values – to be a trusted organisation, a trusted leader, values must be both explicitly expressed and lived daily. Are these still lived? Aspirational values not being lived = loss of all trust and company becomes commodity. Image to the right comes from “Walking the Talk”: Under-promising is almost as dangerous as over-promising.

  • Good strategy articulates the set of coherent daily, weekly, monthly actions that must be inculcated, measured and made habitual? What systems – budget, motivation, talent, metrics?
  • Good strategy addresses the question: How do we concentrate our resources in areas where our opponents are weak? What are the real sources (that customers really care about) of our advantages? “Don’t attack walled cities”
  • Good strategy addresses innovation and change: How do we as an organisation cheaply explore ideas? How do we embrace “trying, failing & improving”?  Is it career suicide to lead a failed product launch?  If so, there will be no innovation.
  • Good strategy understands sales.  Neil Rackham tells us that today’s customers are polarizing around extremes of transaction oriented (“give me your price for this”) and trusted relationship (“help me think and I’ll pay you well”) – you cannot target both groups with the same approach. Transactional – push towards self service. Trusted – over-resource with senior experts; only chase projects with very high win probability (coming second is worse than not bidding).

Further Resources on Strategy


What else is important?  What challenges do you face when you are tasked with defining strategy?  

6 responses to “Some Reflections On Good Strategy”

  1. These all make good sense and are generally consistent with what is covered in other publications like Playing to Win and Rumelt’s book. But the only good strategy is strategy that produces better results.

    Without research citations showing that those following the framework this speaker suggested produce better results than those who don’t, it remains just opinion and making strategy decisions based solely on opinion most definitely is not good practice. Did Professor Gibbon provide data in the talk that we can access?

    1. Talking strategy is like talking “how to play chess” – there are some clear basic principles – pawns move forward, rooks on the horizontal – but how a player puts those moves together is entirely dependent on the game in which he or she is playing. There is no “chess strategy” – and beyond a few big ideas like “control the centre”, “get your key pieces out early” and “castle as soon as you can” -> there are no guaranteed ideas.

      Any universal “strategic plan” would immediately make it not useful – because all the other players would adjust their play to make it useless.

      My reflection is that strategy that is an open discussion of challenges and possible responses – will be good. But strategy that is one person trying to impress the rest of the board with his wisdom – will be terrible.

      Strategy that is just good sounding phrases about ambitious (but un-believeable) aims is George Orwellian ego-talk 😉

      Thanks for the links.

  2. Hello Conor. Great thoughts indeed. For those of you interested in this topic, I would suggest the book “Good strategy, bad strategy” by Richard Rumelt

    1. Great stuff – I watched the first few minutes of the video – I’ve saved it to watch later this month 😉 Brilliant!

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