The authors of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick, Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit, McKinsey consultants all, tell us that the biggest problem with strategy-making is that it usually results in strategies that are insufficiently bold to do the job. We have seen how the usual sort of strategy-making process grinds away at the bold until it is rendered bland or worse.
This blandification of otherwise bold statements happens when qualifiers enter the words on screen as the result of an iterative cycle of draft and review by various stakeholders to the result. Take, for example, the following draft strategic goal: “The [school] will create a unique, differentiated educational experience for every student.” This is ambitious and aspirational; it has many implications, including that every student be known well as a learner and as a person. Now consider what happens when an academic administrator objects that it sounds like the school isn’t already doing at least some differentiating. “Maybe we could say, ‘Continue the school’s efforts toward a differentiated learning experience for students’.”
Look at what just happened: The word “continue” crept in while “for every student” got pushed out. Qualifiers such as these water down the strategic verbiage and make it sound to the reader like the school will just keep doing more of the same. It’s like telling the audience to keep moving along as there is nothing to see here.
To those inside the school complaining that strategy too seldom takes their already good work into account, I would say that their good work is terrific, but totally expected, and that strategic statements must name the aspiration behind the effort. To use qualifiers like “will continue” or “maintain” in goal statements renders strategy meaningless, not to mention insufficiently bold for the challenges facing today’s schools.