Mount Olympus is for immortals. It is hard to get to the executive floor, and those who make it usually have huge egos. When it comes to strategy formulation, egos are one of the factors that help to explain why smart executives, assisted by equally smart consultants with solid methodology, fail to deliver true strategy. Too often, corporate strategy is a collection of tactics that address all the hot topics of the time, lacking unity and fit. Most important, the spark of inspiration and genius, which should abound among immortals, is hard to find in corporate strategy documents.
One top-level management consultant, who was hired to assess corporations in trouble, was asked about the difficulty of his job. He answered that it was not difficult: all he had to do was look for the super egos, and that pointed him to the source of the problems.
Strategy formulation is a process that involves consultants, either internal or external, who do the leg work, prepare the data, facilitate sessions and document decisions. These are mortals, and the interaction with Olympus creates a few difficult situations. The first occurs when the result of the SWOT, PEST, 5F and other analysis are presented to the executives. If these reports present relevant information that has not been considered in formulating the existing strategy, egos can get in the way. Zeus speaks: “Are you mere mortals, implying that I and other deities do not understand our industry, our business and our organization?, Are you implying that we have failed to read the signs in the sky? Of course we know all this, we’ve always had”. Groupthink kicks in and everyone agrees, “of course, we know all this, well presented though, nice charts, excellent work”. In some cases this may be true, but when we see so many corporations that fail to “read the signs in the sky”, we have to find an explanation, and egos could be the culprit.
What happens next? The groundwork has been done, and now is the time for the creative spark. The workshop is underway, the consultants have presented their findings, and now is the time when there is no method, no step-by-step recipe, to take all the relevant information and create a strategy. Inspiration is needed, but it doesn’t always happen. Once I heard someone say that you cannot find inspiration if you are always listening to yourself. At this point, everyone wants to move on from that awkward moment, so executives start pulling the projects and initiatives they wanted to push anyway. Consultants also need to keep the account and finish the workshop, so they play along. Groupthink kicks in again and at the end of the day they conclude the workshop with a list of disjointed initiatives they call strategy. Egos are safe and even fed once again, deities go back to Mount Olympus and the corporation ends up, once again, with no true strategy.