Vision Is Not Strategy


Business leaders sometimes mistake vision for strategy.  They hold an annual meeting with their executive team and boldly proclaim the company’s direction.  They think big and excitedly list the new initiatives they intend to pursue in the coming year.  Everything feels fresh, and the possibilities seem endless.  Everyone leaves the meeting fired up and ready to get to work.

Then the work comes.  The “sugar buzz” from the strategy meeting quickly fades as daily operational tasks obliterate its momentum.  Days turn into weeks.  Weeks turn into months. 

Suddenly, it’s time for the annual meeting again.  “Let’s take a look at that great strategy we developed last year,” says the CEO.  Someone scurries back to his desk and returns with a gleaming 3-ring binder.  He sets it in the middle of the table, turns to the appropriate page, and there it is…the “strategy.” 

“Wow, that was a great idea!” says one executive.  “I totally forgot about that one,” says another.  “We really had our A-game that day, didn’t we?” sighs a third. 

Did they?

What good is a strategy that doesn’t get done?  Anyone can envision a grand scheme.  The world of intentions is full of geniuses, but it’s what you do in the real world that counts.  Don’t congratulate yourself on big ideas; rather, celebrate the big results. 

It’s like the frustrated football player at the end of a tough loss.  “Our scheme was perfect,” he says.  “If we had just completed that one pass, made that one tackle, and not missed that one block, we would have won.”  Yeah, you might have, but you didn’t.  The other team is holding the trophy.  You failed to execute, and that calls your strategy into question.  No amount of wouldas, couldas, or shouldas will change that.

Sometimes, execution of a strategy requires changing the strategy itself.  Strategic thinking can’t just happen in the boardroom; it has to be a way of life – a continuously iterative process.   It’s purposeful action, frequently recalibrating in the face of reality.  Your football team may think they have a good strategy going into the game, but when the opponent scores two quick touchdowns and your quarterback goes down with an injury, cling to that strategy at your peril.  Reality has hit, and it’s time to adjust.  What were your wrong assumptions?  What new opportunities do you see?  How will you fix your errant game plan?  Visioning is over.  This is where the real strategizing begins.  The final score is the referendum on how you did.

Again, vision is not strategy.  Results can fall short of the vision, but you can’t separate strategy from results.  As Phil Rosenzweig writes in The Halo Effect, “Whenever someone says, ‘We have the right strategy, we just need to execute better,’ I make sure to take an extra-close look at the strategy.” 

Strategy is the doing.  In fact, strategy is so interwoven with action that it’s a shame that “strategy execution” has to be two words.  Perhaps “strexecution” is more like it.  Or maybe “stratexecution.”  Either way, that’s more like it.


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