Strategy is a mindset, not a job

Michael Oelschig Submitted by on the 4th of May 2016

There’s a well-known quote, attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and a Chinese proverb, albeit with a slight variation between the two, that says, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”.

If you ask any strategist what their biggest work-related gripe is, I am certain most of them will say something along the lines of, “I often develop a strategy that is loved by everyone on the team, including client, but once it gets approved, it is filed away somewhere to never be seen again – consigned to an existence of unrealised potential.”

The reason this happens has nothing to do with a lack of conviction on the part of the people tasked with implementing a strategy, but rather a lack of buy-in that comes from involvement in the process of building it. Strategists are generally solo thinkers by nature. They sit in their strategic bubble and tackle a problem until they find a solution – and then that solution inevitably finds itself in a PowerPoint slideshow that is only presented to the larger team after completion.

The problem with this approach is found in the first two parts of Benjamin’s famous quote – tell your team the strategy and they will forget it; show it to them and they may even remember it – but, with no involvement, seldom does full understanding result. And without proper understanding, how can anyone reasonably expect the strategy to be properly implemented by the people tasked to do so?

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This is why every agency that claims to be strategically led, as most do, needs to treat strategy as a mindset of the entire organisation – and not just a department or individual. This requires everyone in the agency to think like a strategist in some form. Client service teams need to think strategically to create shared value while constantly identifying new opportunities for great work. Creatives need to think strategically to focus their creative output to ensure alignment and efficacy. Community managers need to have a clear understanding of client objectives to do their work effectively. And everyone needs to know what they are trying to achieve for a client and the roadmap (strategy) to get there. The strategist must simply be the custodian of the process by ensuring that the right questions are asked and answered.

The only way this collective strategic thinking can happen is to involve the broader team from the beginning when developing a strategy for a client. Not only does this create buy-in and understanding, but the insights and client knowledge that sit with the whole team compared to the strategist (that more often than not has very little client interaction beyond simply taking a briefing and then presenting the strategy) are invaluable to the process.

So, before you brief or develop your next strategy, ask yourself – would you (or, more importantly, your client) rather have a PowerPoint presentation hidden away in a folder on a server somewhere or a concise plan that is fully understood and implementable by the whole team?
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Michael Oelschig

Head of Advisory