Despite our rigorous, data-driven approach to creating sustainable solutions for our clients, we struggle to define strategy as a concept because everyone has unique approaches to problem solving. Arriving at common language to describe strategy can be difficult, given the contextual and personal nuances that may shape one’s understanding of its application. When a group of thinkers are put in a room to solve a problem, even if they share a common goal or objective, each may develop a very different approach for realizing success, or strategy. Similarly, when asked about how they conceive of strategy, our consultants at EMH contributed varied responses.
“Strategy, as I conceive of it, is the forward thinking approach that an individual or organization might construct to ensure the accomplishment of an objective while attempting to minimize the presence of randomness or risk,” says EMH consultant Andrew Foley. “If a strategy is followed, an initiative or project should have a relatively high chance of success, with a minimal threshold for randomness or risk.”
Malavika Balachandran, a recently hired senior consultant at EMH, views the key application of strategy to be as a tool for assessing and prioritizing goals, akin to a decision tree. “You first map out various outcomes to determine the range of potential scenarios,” she says. “Given uncertainty and constraints, you have to develop a methodology to optimize the expected outcome.”
Although each EMH consultant defined strategy differently, it became clear that they reached a general consensus that strategy has implications to the fulfillment of goals. Perhaps even more importantly, the team also came to agreement that, for any given situation, not just any strategy, or existing approach, will be effective; successful strategies must be contextual, unique, and founded on sound logic and goal setting.
“Overlaying logic and forward-thinking goals on top of everyday activities leads to successful strategy,” says EMH consultant Katherine Robinson.
Although people may understand, in theory, the importance of having a strategy, they do not always act upon their need for a plan, because developing a careful method is difficult.
It is not easy to escape the rigors of daily business life and devote dedicated time to strategic thinking and planning. As a result, individuals tend to focus more on short-term goals.
“Goal setting can be tough,” adds Robinson. “People are so focused on the everyday tasks that they lose sight of long-term goals.”
“Like one of our successful clients once said, ‘You [can be] so close to the trees that you can’t see the forest.’” says Foley.
Another set of challenges is analytical. “After setting your goals, the next step is determining the path to achieve the optimal outcome under uncertainty,” says Balachandran.
The EMH team believes that developing a strategy is a challenging yet critical component to success for any business or operation. At EMH, though we are a firm with deep-seated expertise as strategists, we often find our approach to be a mixture of both strategic development and managerial transparency: while we perform the rigorous, data-driven approach necessary to construct impactful, lasting strategies, we also aim to arm our clients with the insights, tools, and processes necessary to implement them over time.