Distillations in this newsletter: A new definition of strategy; DICE instead of RACI; Strategic Compression.


A monthly concoction of insight, learning and things you might have missed for anyone who works on strategy, works with strategy or just loves strategy.

Would you rather listen to this newsletter as a podcast?


This month …

  • A new definition of strategy
  • Snippets on strategy you may have missed (from Clay Parker Jones): DICE instead of RACI; Strategic Compression.

If you enjoy reading this newsletter, don’t forget to forward it to friends or colleagues who might also find it of interest.

Was this forwarded to you? Sign-up

Discover the content of past issues of Strategy Distilled.


A new definition of strategy

I’m a big fan of Roger Martin. He’s been in the top 10 management thinkers for all of the past decade, and his book with AG Lafley (Playing to Win) is in my top ten strategy books of all time. I also love his idea that every organisation needs a consistent language and framework for strategy.

The importance of the language of strategy was brought home to me when I started to explore definitions of strategy. Here are some of the more readily found definitions from a Google search:

  1. Strategy is a long-range plan for achieving something or reaching a goal, or the skill of making such plans. Cambridge English Dictionary
  2. Strategy is a general plan to achieve one or more long-term or overall goals under conditions of uncertainty. Wikipedia
  3. Strategy is the intelligent allocation of resources through a unique system of activities to achieve a goal. The Strategic Thinking Institute

And here are others from renowned strategists:

  1. Strategy is a deliberate search for a plan of action that will develop a business’s competitive advantage and compound it. Bruce Henderson, 1989. The Origin of Strategy. Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1989 pp139-143.
  2. Strategy comprises a set of activities that fit together to produce sustainable competitive advantage in a marketplace. Michael Porter, 1996. What is strategy? Harvard Business Review 74 (6): 61–78.
  3. A good strategy has coherence, coordinating actions, policies, and resources so as to accomplish an important end. Richard Rumelt, 2011. Good Strategy Bad Strategy. Profile Books, NY.

Here’s my issue. If all of these are definitions of strategy, what is a strategic plan? They all include clear references to the process of strategic planning (e.g. devise activities and allocate resources). This might not matter if a strategy and a strategic plan were, broadly, the same thing. In my benchmarking analysis of 52 published strategies in the UK university sector, 19 were labelled as strategy, 17 were labelled as strategic plan and there were no systematic differences in their content. When I did this analysis (in 2019) the university sector didn’t seem to think there were important differences between the two.

Elsewhere, however, I have argued that strategy and strategic plan ought to be strictly separated. My Separation Model of Strategy proposes that strategy and strategic planning need to be forced apart so they can serve different purposes within the organisation. Whilst strategy provides a compelling vision of the future, strategic planning devises the transformational change programme to get there. Whilst strategy is all about destination and path, strategic planning is all about people, priorities, resources and deadlines. Perhaps most critically for the practicalities of managing strategy, strategy is designed not to change, but strategic plans can, and usually ought to, change.

To be clear, strategy and strategic plan need to be closely aligned – it is through the operation of the strategic plan that the impact of the strategy will be achieved. But the need for them to be sufficiently separate to serve different purposes within the organisation gives us real problems with our definitions of strategy.

The challenge then is to define strategy in a way that makes no reference to a plan or the processes of planning. So, what is strategy when it is strictly separated from strategic planning?

Here’s my answer:

Strategy is an evidence-based, persuasive and feasible narrative of your commitment to a desired future that is unattainable by just refining and optimising what you do currently.

Let’s tease this apart.

  1. Strategy as narrative (or storytelling). Martin Weigel suggests that strategy needs good words because “strategy is the art of getting other people to do something” and hence you need to put your strategy into words that others can follow. Barry and Elmes (1997) argued “if story-telling is the preferred sensemaking currency of human relationships […] then surely strategy must rank as one of the most prominent, influential, and costly stories told in organizations” p430. Kuipers et al (2013) suggest that “storytelling is regarded as practically advantageous for the adoption of strategic plans and the communication of strategic intent throughout the organization because it makes the content of the strategy more easily understood, which in turn enhances coping and emotional buy-in among employees”. Barry and Elmes go on to describe strategy-as-storytelling in terms of “thematic, sequenced accounts that convey meaning from implied author to implied reader” p431.
  2. Strategy as evidence-based, persuasive and feasible. To be effective in its storytelling, strategy needs to be persuasive so its readers / listeners take ownership of it and pass its message on. Strategy cannot be seen as fanciful. Its origins need to be credible, and making them evidence-based provides a meaningful way to tie strategy back to the lived experience of the organisation, in the present day. The need for strategy to be feasible is a matter of considerable debate. What about moonshots or Big Hairy Audacious Goals? Orson Welles alluded to this when he said of his audience “Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible”. The resolution here is probably that strategy doesn’t need to be feasible today. When JFK committed to the “goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth” in 1961, he did so not because it was easy but because it is was hard, because “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win” (Kennedy 1962).
  3. Strategy as commitment. One thing the six strategy definitions we began with would agree on is the need for decision-making. Strategy needs to embody a decisive commitment to one direction in favour of others. As Michael Porter put it, “the essence of strategy is deciding what not to do”. The key question, however, is commitment to what? If we need to avoid all reference to committing to a plan, what is left to commit to? My answer is to commit to a desired future that is unattainable by just refining and optimising what you do currently. The ‘desired future’ is carefully worded to encompass strategies defined in terms of both destination (where we seek to get to) and path (the direction we seek to travel), since a strategy can legitimately be either. And this is not just any desired future. It is a future that will not be attained by continuing to do what we do currently (business-as-usual) with added refinements and optimisations. It is a future that differs from our projected future. It involves a deliberate change of course from our current trajectory.

For me, this new definition of strategy is a big step forward. It defines a new objective in strategy production: developing the narrative of a commitment to a desired future. It gives a new set of quality criteria to check if our draft strategy is a ‘good-enough’ strategy:

  1. Is our narrative evidence-based, persuasive and feasible?
  2. Is our desired future unattainable by just refining and optimising what we do currently?

It also helps us think of strategy and strategic plan separately because we can now define each, independently of the other.


Snippets on strategy you may have missed

This month, both from Clay Parker Jones

DICE instead of RACI
Recently, I’ve been working with clients on strategy adoption and our conversations never get far before talk turns to who is going to do what across the organisation. Inevitably, discussion soon progresses into the different roles individuals and teams are going to play in strategy adoption and before long someone has started sketching out a RACI table. With strategic initiatives itemised as column headers and the individuals and teams involved as row headers, the cells can then be filled with (adapted from Wikipedia):

  • ‘R’ – Responsible: those who do the work to complete the initiative;
  • ‘A’ – Accountable: the one ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or initiative;
  • ‘C’ – Consulted: those whose opinions are sought on the initiative, typically subject-matter experts;
  • ‘I’ – Informed: those who are kept up-to-date on decisions made and progress made on the initiative.

Clay Parker Jones argues that “RACI is vague, hard to use, and reinforces the ‘what the hell is happening here’ status quo”. His refinement of RACI – DICE – is, he proposes, “specific, easy to use, and shines a bright light on dysfunction”. His new framework replaces ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ with ‘decides’ and ‘executes’. Here’s how he explains the benefits. “Decides […] is specific. Identifying […] who decides about what (and how) is the most powerful tool in the structuring of work, and we deserve specific words that push us to make these kinds of choices”. “Executes is exceptionally clear: it’s the person or team that actually does the thing. Writes the deck. Washes the tomatoes. Writes the check to the vendor. Updates the page on the website.” “’Informed’ and ‘Consulted’ get to stay. These are quite clear, especially once we get precise with Decides and Executes”.

The concept of Strategic Compression
I love Clay Parker Jones’ idea of strategic compression, which he describes as a “way to improve the usability of strategic thought”. “The goal with compression is to make something catchy and portable that simplifies decision-making.” One way he suggests ‘compressing’ strategy is creating general prioritisation rules, using ‘even over’ statements. Jurriaan Kamer gives these examples of even over statements: revenue growth even over user growth; hire team players even over hiring deep experts; honest feedback even over harmony.

I’d have to say that I like his idea of strategic compression more than I like his way of achieving it. I’m in no doubt that ‘even over’ statements are a great way to sharpen and convey strategic thinking, but strategic compression could be applied much more broadly in the management of strategy. It could be used to turn a ‘keep-it-simple’ philosophy (always a good stance for strategists) into a working process. Here is my first attempt at a strategy compression checklist. For every imperative statement in your strategy (they usually start with ‘We will …’ or ‘We aim to …’ or ‘We seek to …’) check:

  1. Can it be simpler or clearer?
  2. Can it be more sharply focused?
  3. Can it be more memorable?
  4. Can it be more useful for decision-making across the organisation?
  5. Can it be more shareable / more viral?


Goal Atlas gives you structured processes and tools to ensure strategy is adopted and impactful across your organisation. Get in touch if you think we might be able to help.


If you enjoy reading this newsletter, don’t forget to forward it to friends or colleagues who might also find it of interest.

Was this forwarded to you? Sign-up

Discover the content of past issues of Strategy Distilled.

Share This