The hallmarks of bad strategy

It may be worse to have a bad strategy than no strategy at all: at least if you have no strategy, you know that there’s a void to fill. But if you think you have a strategy, and what you really have is what UCLA business professor Richard Rumelt calls “bad strategy”, then you’re likely to begin executing on a plan that doesn’t deserve to be executed.

“To detect a bad strategy, look for one or more of its four major hallmarks:

  • Fluff. Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses “Sunday” words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking.
  • Failure to face the challenge. Bad strategy fails to recognize or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.
  • Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.
  • Bad strategic objectives. A strategic objective is set by a leader as a means to an end. Strategic objectives are “bad” when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.”

Next: read about the purpose of good strategy.


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  1. This was excellent and I can think of a number of organizations that have shiningly promoted bad strategies and have used every Sunday word they can thing of, like “locus of control”. What does that even mean? I would also say that promoting the wrong outcomes- for example quantity over quality, is also a hallmark of bad strategy, e.g. we served 10,000 cases versus, we served 1,000 well.

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