Should Your Strategy Be Constantly Changing?

I read Holly Green’s Shifting from Strategic Planning to Strategic Agility, on the other day. Ok, agile sounds good for a business. And the world does change rapidly, too. But what about this, from something I wrote about 10 years ago:

Better a mediocre strategy, consistently applied over time, than a series of brilliant strategies, changing rapidly, contradicting each other.

Is that no longer true? Here, in contrast, is Holly’s argument for strategic agility:

At its core, strategic planning involves a process of analysis. You do some research into what is and what is possible. You define a goal, break that goal down into manageable steps, and determine how to implement them while identifying the expected consequences of each step. It’s a logical, straightforward process designed to sequentially move the organization from where you are now to where you want to go.

The huge flaw in this is the assumption that the world is reasonably stable and somewhat predictable. Maybe a few generations ago. But anyone who has been paying attention the last few years knows that today’s world is neither.

That sounds reasonable as I read it, but in fact, I disagree. I don’t think strategic planning assumes that the world is stable and predictable. It does, however, assume that one core foundation of any strategy is your identity. It’s your uniqueness, what sets you apart from the rest of the world. That’s true for companies as much as for individuals. And that doesn’t change easily. You can change strengths and weaknesses only over a long time, and with a great deal of effort. So that part of strategy is relatively stable. And that’s a very important part.

Of course markets change, technologies change, and goals change; which is why the “agility” component is attractive. But strategic agility doesn’t replace strategy. I say good business strategy mixes long-term attributes with changing markets and focus, and of course it’s always a process, never fully stable. One element affects the other elements. It is never sequential. But strategy is also a matter of focus, understanding core identity, building positioning over time, and it takes consistency too.

What do you think?


  • Jeremie Averous says:

    Hi Tim
    thanks for your refreshing perspective. I fully concur on the fact that we should not mix what changes and what does not change.
    In the Fourth Revolution the organization will be open and fluid. Open, at the center of a widespread network, exchanging readily with the world. Fluid, because the organizational shape will be built around a turbulent flow of projects.
    Something will hold the organization and its network together, though. It is its purpose and value.
    Leadership and strategy need to focus on the purpose and value, how to make the brand singular, and how to create that emotional connection with enough customers and followers. That is long term, that does not change.
    The shape of the organization like any living organism will adapt to the situation. The purpose and values won’t. Let’s focus strategy on purpose and values.

  • Bradford Shimp says:

    I love the idea that strategy should always be anchored in identity. Knowing who you are as a business can help you make choices as the world around your business changes. But no choice should take you too far from your unique identity, though that might shift slowly over time.

  • Annie says:

    I think you make some good points. Obviously, the marketplace is global right now. We are constantly adapting our plans, process, and other elements to stay successful. I believe planning is important but you have to be willing to tweak or overhaul it from time to time.

  • Tim S. McEneny says:

    Here’s a question….”Can a strategy be a great strategy if it can’t be executed?” I’ve seen many a “brilliant strategy” fail because of poor execution. Realism is required to build a great strategy and business plan. That requires you to know what you and your company can achieve over the short term and the long term. Avoid the brilliant strategies and overly optimistic “hockey stick” forecasts. I believe you should try to stay within your core competency and leverage your current strengths.

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