In the HBR article entitled “Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust” (link below) authors Edmondson and Verdin examine two cases of recent business failure: Wells Fargo’s and Volkswagen, and discuss the concept of ‘strategy as learning’.
In both cases, the companies’ strategies were viewed by their top executives as analytically sound, but the performance gaps were blamed on execution. As a result, mid-level managers and employees kept trying harder to execute the plan, effectively digging the hole deeper until there was no other choice but to cover it all up. This, of course, led to scandal and eventual loss for the organizations financially and beyond.
‘Strategy as learning’ contrasts sharply with the view of strategy as a stable, analytically rigorous plan for execution in the market.
Like all hypotheses, strategy as learning’ starts with situation assessment and analysis — strategy’s classic tools. Also like all hypotheses, it must be tested through action. With this lens, encounters with customers provide data that is of ongoing interest to senior executives — vital inputs to dynamic strategy formulation. Strategy as learning is characterized by ongoing observing and adjusting, fueled by data that can only be obtained through execution.
The ‘strategy as learning’ concept aligns with our idea of ‘strategic thinking’ as posted on our blog 10/5/2018: Strategic thinking is about capturing what managers learn from all sources (including both ‘soft’ insights from experiences and observations as well as ‘hard’ data from market research) and then synthesizing it into a vision of the direction that the business should pursue.
The concept of ‘strategic learning’ and ‘strategic thinking’ is what Line of Sight Group is all about – an evidence-based approach using external data to augment our client’s internal perspective to help them 1) make informed strategic decisions and 2) adjust those strategies based on empirical data from customers and the industry. Our Market Intelligence and our Customer Win/Loss analysis offerings are specifically designed to help our clients develop and maintain systematic and unbiased feedback loops that enable confident adjustments to strategy.
Strategy is about placing bets – big and important bets that can make or break the future. Continuing to up the ante with the belief that the problem is in execution instead of using data to gain feedback for necessary adjustments can result in loss of not only the hoped-for jackpot, but also the entire bankroll.