The strategic imperative has been communicated and a team is formed but progress is slow to non-existent. What’s the matter? Everyone inside and outside the team agrees something must be done, so why is it starting to feel like the problem is too big for us? It seems like personal agendas are getting in the way. It’s not clear that we are talking about the right things and somehow we keep returning to the same arguments. Does this sound familiar?
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” is a catchy quote falsely attributed to Sun Tzu, a military general and philosopher who lived (and died) around the 6th Century BC. Regardless of the origin of the saying, in the context of organizational innovation, the situation is even more complicated. Getting from strategy to tactics requires that the strategy be sufficiently elucidated so that all involved have a common understanding of why it is important. This “Why” represents the organization’s internal value proposition for the project and is essential to frame the evaluation of “What” must be done (the tactics) to achieve this all-important “Why”.
If this understanding is not reached, then the strategy is no more than a hypothesis capable of generating eternal debate. Until the value proposition that drives the strategy is commonly understood any subsequent debates around tactics can easily devolve into what are really no more than differences of opinion about why the project is being pursued. This lack of clarity makes it difficult to determine what the really important issues are and which issues are merely details or even irrelevant.
It is essential that this understanding be hammered out early in the project so that personal agendas or other irrelevancies can be distinguished from the critical elements necessary to achieve the value proposition.
Without this early understanding the organization is doomed to be mired in endless debate and false starts. If he were alive today, a quote by Sun Tzu, master organizational strategist, might read, “Strategy without a common understanding of the value proposition is certain to generate tactics without organizational commitment. This is the most painful path to certain defeat.”