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Practice Makes Perfect in Executing Your Strategy, Too

Posted February 22, 2013 8:30 AM by Mark Cutler

After reading a blogpost the other night stating that to become good at strategy requires practice, I just had to share it because I couldn’t agree more.

The author, Roger Martin—dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto—says that to be an “accomplished strategist” the first necessary element “is belief, the second is work, work, and work some more. This means making strategy choices, seeing how they work out and then learning from them.”  This is what we at Ascendant try to impart to our clients when implementing a strategy management framework like the Balanced Scorecard (BSC).

According to Martin, “[s]trategy is part art and part science; a heuristic, not an algorithm.  As with most heuristics, you can learn the categories to think about: pay attention to customers, to competitors, to capabilities, to elements of industry evolution.”  And, this is exactly what the BSC does, it is a framework that provides the categories—customers, finances, internal process, and learning and growth—but it doesn’t give you the secret formula.  That’s where the “work, work, and work some more,” or practice, comes in.

He goes on to state that in “strategy, helpful practice means setting out your logic about a choice in advance … and then watching what actually happens against this predicted logic. This is the only way you will learn.”  Again, the BSC is a great example because of the cause-and-effect linkages among the strategic objectives.  A strategy map really is a strategic hypothesis of how you believe you can improve your organization.  Measures help you track your progress and learn whether your hypothesis is correct or if you have to alter it.

The learning part of using the BSC comes from the strategic discussions your organization’s leadership team can have based on your monthly, or quarterly, scorecard results.  They can make decisions based on the real data they see and drill down to understand why certain inputs led to particular outcomes.  Then, next month or next quarter they repeat the process so they are continually practicing and becoming better at strategy.

To learn how different organizations do this, join us at the 2013 Mission-Driven Management Summit at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, March 5-6.