Section targeting

Career Planning to become a class act

By Carol Lewis

"Become a Class Act"

Career Planning to become a class act

Your career will benefit from strategic thinking, and we’re not talking about deciding who you need to elbow out of the way on your route to the top

SOME days going into the office can feel like going over the top and into no man’s land, but on the whole, office life doesn’t require military tactics.

But your career will benefit from strategic thinking, and we’re not talking about deciding who you need to elbow out of the way on your route to the top.

If one thing will promote you from middle management to the top spot it will be the ability to grasp the concept of strategy. But the big S is a slippery customer and books on military and chess acumen are unlikely to provide the practical advice you really need.

Whether you plan to conquer the world by selling hamburgers or software you’ll need a strategy. And to have a strategy you’ll need to understand what one is, how to get one and what to do with it once you’ve got it.

Robert Neugeboren, a lecturer in social studies at Harvard Business School who is currently running a summer school on the topic, says that the definition of strategy based on game theory would be: “A complete plan of action covering all possible situations in a game.”

So how do business players translate that into profit? They don’t, Neugeboren says. Game theory tells you all the possible solutions, but not which one is the best. Business strategy, he says, is better described as a chosen tactic.

Strategy’s downfall seems to be that it hasn’t had a strategy to prevent its own exploitation.

As Mike Freedman and Benjamin Tregoe, two management consultants, write in The Art and Discipline of Strategic Leadership: “Strategy is one of the most used and abused words in the corporate lexicon. Rarely will you find any two executives, consultants or academics who agree on its definition.”

Some of the definitions bandied about are frankly incomprehensible to anyone with anything less than a top MBA. So let’s ask that repository of top MBAs, McKinsey & Co. Renowned as one of the world’s leading strategy houses, it sells strategy for a living. So what does it think it is?

Charles Roxburgh, a director at McKinsey in London, says that of all the definitions he likes the classic 1978 McKinsey one: “Strategy is an integrated set of actions aimed at increasing the long-term wellbeing and strength of an enterprise relative to its competitors.” All of which sounds nice if a little fuzzy.

For a down-to-earth definition of strategy we turn to BP, which has drilled down and come up with: “A strategy is a long-term development plan designed to achieve the company’s goals, a statement about what should be done to ensure success. It should be a comprehensive plan that identifies the direction and guides the allocation of resources, not a loose statement of aspirations.”

Strategy, it seems, can mean different things to different people. But it is essentially a plan — a cunning plan, as Baldrick would say — designed to put you ahead of the competition. Now who wouldn’t want that?
Career Planning

You may also be interested in...

From Career Planning Return Home