Strategy Isn’t Problem Solving!

I received a notice from a well-known university for a strategy workshop to “master strategy consulting skills,” which they say is the skill of “structured problem solving.” Using templates and tools, they’ll teach you how to develop recommendations for clients.

Problem solving isn’t strategy, and telling people what to do is rarely effective. Does it work for you at home?

A problem is a deviation from expectations for which you don’t know the cause. Problem solving involves identifying the cause of the problem and “fixing” it to return to the previous state: My car won’t start; I identify that my starter motor is bad and replace it and my car starts again. It won’t, however, go faster, be more comfortable or have more windows.

Crafting strategy should identify how you’ll win in your chosen environment. Why will your ideal customer buy from you versus your competitor? Answering that involves: a) identifying your ideal customer, b) understanding their needs and c) innovating a profitable (and ideally defensible) way of meeting that need. Doesn’t sound like problem solving, does it?

Guess who should craft that strategy? An outsider who doesn’t have to execute it? See how that works for you!

We’re all emotionally attached and much better prepared to deliver on a solution we create ourselves, and strategy is no different. One of the strong principles for creating a committed team is to let members determine how to accomplish the organization’s objectives. Micromanage them and tell them exactly how to do their job and you might, at best, get compliance, but you won’t get commitment.

Senior leaders in organizations tend to reject ideas (e.g., strategy) unless they create them themselves. Certainly a facilitator to help them work through the preparation, tough conversations and decisions is required, but they won’t be spoon-fed.

So learn the process of problem solving (yes, there is one), but don’t think that problem solving equates to strategy, and don’t buy template driven strategy from someone else!

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