Good Strategy and Bad Strategy: What is the kernel of a strategy? (Part I)

Vision and/or “fluff” masquerading as strategy?

I have been getting ready for my next strategy assignment thus grappling with strategy.  And I also happened to be reading Outside In by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine.  All was well until I got to Table 4-1 which spells out the 6 disciplines that ‘mature customer experience organisations’ excel at: strategy practices; customer understanding practices; design practices; measurement practices; governance practices; and culture practices.

I don’t have an issue with these practices, they occur to me as valuable.  Yet, I stopped in my tracks.  What stopped me in my tracks?  Take a look at what the authors write regarding strategy practices:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define a customer experience strategy that describes the intended customer experience.
  • Align the strategy with the overall company strategy.
  • Align the strategy with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the strategy with all employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions).”

Do you see the issue?   No.  Ok, let me rewrite what Harley/Kerry have written by substituting ‘vision’ for ‘strategy’:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define a customer experience vision that describes the intended customer experience.
  • Align the vision with the overall company strategy.
  • Align the vision with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the vision with all employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions).”

So what is it that the authors are pointing at?  It could be ‘vision’, it could be ‘strategy’.  Does it matter?  Yes.  Why?  As I have written before vision, objectives, strategy are distinct according to Richard Rumelt, I agree with him.

Now lets go a step further and just strip out the terms ‘customer experience strategy’ and ‘strategy’ (shorthand for customer experience strategy) and replace them with ‘intended customer experience’.  If I do this then we end up with:

“STRATEGY PRACTICES

  • Define the intended customer experience.
  • Align the intended customer experience with the company strategy.
  • Align the intended customer experience with the organisation’s brand attributes.
  • Share the intended customer experience with all the employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions”

Do you notice that by rewriting it this way nothing has been lost?  If anything there is greater clarity.  If that is actually the case, and I say it is, then ‘customer experience strategy’, as used by the authors, is fluff.  If you are wondering what I am talking about, when I talk “fluff”, then you will benefit from reading this post.

Yet a customer experience strategy is necessary

Does that mean your organisation does not need to craft a customer experience strategy?  No.  Your organisation does need a customer experience strategy.  Why?  Because crafting and communicating your intended customer experience is not enough.  You have to bring about a ‘state of affairs within your organisation’ such that this state of affairs generates/delivers the intended customer experience as a natural expression of your organisation.    Bringing about this ‘state of affairs’ may involve bringing in changes in the leadership team, hiring more staff, refitting your stores, redesigning your website, develop a smartphone app, changing performance measures…….

So what should your customer experience strategy contain?  What should be the contents?  For that matter, what should be the contents of any strategy for it to count as a strategy?

The kernel of a strategy, any strategy, is made up of three parts

If we strip away all the difference (frameworks, methods, processes) from strategy are we left with a meaningful/useful core that can help you and I develop a strategy, any strategy?  Richard Rumelt says we are and he calls this ‘the kernel of a strategy’: the core content that constitutes the hard nut inside the concept of strategy.   What is this core content?  This is what Rumelt says in his book Good Strategy Bad Strategy:

“The core content of a strategy is a diagnosis of the situation at hand, the creation or identification of a guiding policy for dealing with the critical difficulties, and a set of coherent actions.”

I will dive into, explore, each of these three components in follow up posts.  Whilst you may think that the most difficult part is the formulation of the guiding policy, my experience suggests that it is the diagnosis that matters the most and is the most painful.  So the next post will deal with diagnosis.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

4 thoughts on “Good Strategy and Bad Strategy: What is the kernel of a strategy? (Part I)”

  1. Maz,

    I have a problem with the book you are reading, though I have to admit I have only read the bit that you quote:

    “STRATEGY PRACTICES
    Define a customer experience strategy that describes the intended customer experience.
    Align the strategy with the overall company strategy.
    Align the strategy with the organisation’s brand attributes.
    Share the strategy with all employees (e.g., distribute documentation, conduct training sessions).”

    As I read it my eyes rolled to the back of my head, and I had a nose bleed (not strictly true, I use some poetic licence) I did lose the will to live though at about word 23

    I agree with your comments about strategic fluff. But I would add one. A strategy may be as elegant and insightful as can be. But if it bores everybody to tears, then nobody will read to the end, and it isn’t worth the paper it is written on

    James

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    1. Hello James
      I am in total agreement with you. Frankly, I read the whole book and was left with “So what? This is the same old, same old stuff disguised as new/profound”.

      Maz

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  2. Hi Maz,
    I find myself in agreement with you. I also must admit (although you know this) of interviewing Kerry Bodine on the book in question. I have had a look at the book and not much of it grabbed me as a piece of writing. What I was more interested in were the ideas about why things are changing and the data that stands as evidence of the value of a truly customer focused approach.

    Adrian

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    1. Hello Adrian,

      Actually it was reading your interview that got me interested in reading the book to see if there was anything of substance, anything of use within it.

      Upon reading the book it occurred to me that it was a collection of good practices (as reviewed by Forrester) lumped together into one book.

      Maz

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