Rear View Mirror On With Road In Vision

Good strategy? Prove it

The benefit of hindsight

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Rear View Mirror On With Road In Vision

The overconfidence shown by individuals and organisations about the quality of their strategic plan is a constant surprise. 

This strategy document, which usually has a multi-year time horizon, is used to justify a range of decisions and inflate the importance of the executive team or consultant responsible for creating it.

But the brutal reality is that good strategy is only good strategy with the benefit of hindsight. 

It is not until well after the timeline of the current plan has expired, that observers can look back and objectively make an assessment of its merits.

You can look back into the recent history and identify a key decision and say “that decision taken four years ago has proved to be pivotal” and then evaluate whether the outcome was positive or negative.

Unfortunately, we don’t have foresight. 

We can’t say our strategy is the right one – at least, not yet. The predictions for how the marketplace will develop and how your organisation will respond over the next few years are simply guesses; hopefully educated, informed and well-researched guesses, but guesses nevertheless. 

To pump-up the rhetoric and exaggerate the strength of your strategic plan does little for you or your strategy. In a rapidly changing world, the chances of your strategy being 100% accurate are small and it is likely to change dozens of times over its life.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

Adopt a more conservative position when describing your strategy. Emphasise the preparatory work that has gone into the document. What data has been sourced to support the initiatives? What research has been relied upon and what assumptions have been made? 

Discuss the approach that will be taken to implement each of the agreed actions and what contingencies are in place if there are shifts in the marketplace or if things don’t go to plan. 

The rigour of this work is what will give your stakeholders confidence in the direction that has been chosen, not a stirring speech on the quality of the document.

Similarly, challenge others who over-inflate their strategic plan. When they tell you they have a great strategy, simply say “Prove it”. They won’t be able to without the benefit of hindsight.

Ask yourself

What impact could this action have on your leadership success?

How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?