I started my previous article on The Ten Myths Of Strategy with stating that strategy is a mess. That is not just my own observation. A recent study by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting practice, shows that our Chief Strategy Officers (CSOs) think the same. And if anyone would know, it is our CSOs, right?
For their 2018 global CSO benchmarking study, PwC conducted a survey amongst 187 CSOs across the globe. The results of that study are as evident as they are astonishing. Even though they are not using exactly the same words, the implications are identical: strategy as we know it is a mess. To see how, let me summarize some of the main findings of that study:
- 25% of CSOs say they are “very successful” at creating value for their company
- 65% admit their priorities aren’t very clear
- 68% admit they need to “get more in front of and drive change, rather than react to it”
- Despite the vast effort put into the strategic planning process (82% say that it is a “very important” area), most CSOs are dissatisfied with its output
- 27 % fully agree that their corporate plans are of high quality
- 10 % fully agree that their business unit plans are of high quality
- 86% are concerned that their top teams are not addressing their company’s fundamental strategic questions
This is bad. Really bad. For the first three one could still argue that they just reflect an identity crisis amongst CSOs, or that the role of CSO might not be as clear or relevant as they would hope for themselves. The picture we get from these three findings is that CSOs are very dissatisfied with what they do, are not really clear about what they are supposed to do, but don’t really take action to make improvements either. These findings might just suggest that the invention of a C-suite strategy officer role is perhaps not such a good idea. That’s bad for them, but doesn’t say too much yet about the state of strategy.
The remaining four findings, though, are really bad. Of course, they reflect just the CSO’s perspective. But the picture is so clear and widely shared that we can’t deny its message. These four findings show that, even though organizations spend large amounts of time and money on the strategic planning process, the results are gravely disappointing. Not only the corporate and business unit plans themselves are of low quality, they are also not addressing the right questions. Assuming CSOs know what they are talking about, this means organizations waste a tremendous amount of resources on strategic planning.
This is already bad if these findings were new. But the point is they aren’t. If they were new, I imagine we would be alarmed and running around in despair looking for better solutions. But we don’t. And these findings just confirm what other consulting and academic studies have shown over the past decades already: that the way we approach strategy, and the strategic planning process as we know it in particular, doesn’t work.
This shows exactly what I already mentioned in my previous article: We are stuck with an approach of which we know it doesn’t work, but that we keep on using anyway. There I referred to our textbooks and teaching. But as PwC’s survey shows again, this also applies to the way strategy is done in practice. Apparently our belief in the strategic planning process—and its underlying myths—is so strong that we just can’t let it go.
Therefore, I invite you to join me in challenging these myths one by one in the coming series of articles.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
Image credit: Getty