Seventh Day Strategy Stress Test

The moment you know the strategy failed

“As a result of your new strategy, what will you do differently next Monday morning then what you did last Monday morning?”

It was such a simple question. It came from Stanley K. Ridgley, professor at Drexel University’s business school in a podcast interview. I was running as I listened, but the question got me thinking immediately. 

It may be the simplest standard imaginable—just wait seven days post-strategy—but it also might be the best strategy stress-test I’ve yet encountered. 

For most strategy to succeed, it must do at least two things. First, win-over, guide, and empower a group of people to do something. (If you could do it by yourself, you wouldn’t need a formal strategy, just instinct.) Strategy must persuade some people to act. The second step, then, is to act collectively in such a way as to out-compete the adversary or environment. 

If you don’t cover the first hurdle, you won’t have a chance at the second. 

Most hierarchical organizations, like the military, expect compliance. But that’s not always true. I recently spoke with a colleague who went on a work trip to visit a subordinate organization (i.e., higher HQ meets with lower HQ). This colleague was aghast because nobody in the subordinate organization had read the higher organization’s strategy.

Why not? It wasn’t compelling enough. Not in a world where nobody wants to read your strategy. But what it means is that particular strategy never took the first step. It never stepped off the printed page into the real world. It was stuck in the “Great Before,” in pre-existence (a kind of purgatory shown in Disney’s movie Soul). Which means it never lived, so it never impacted anything. It failed before it started.

The first test of any strategy is whether the organization changes after one week. There’s nothing magic about seven days other than it’s a reasonable amount of elapsed time to expect behavior change. The novelty’s worn off. It’s time to move.