Strategic thinking demands a creative fusion of the answers to three questions:
- What do the people in the organisation have plenty of energy for (e.g. provide excellent patient care, deliver an exciting ‘blended learning’ curriculum for students, design and deliver great buildings)?
- What does the organisation have to do to continue to exist (e.g. make enough money, meet targets, work safely and within regulations)?
- What are we already doing well? As the cycling adage has it, ‘train your weaknesses and race your strengths’: many of the answers to the strategic challenges will lie in doing more of what the organisation is already good at, in terms of relationships, skills, innovation, knowledge.
Howell believes that most successful strategies derive from evolutionary steps and an outward-looking perspective, allied to enthusiasm for rapid evaluation and learning. He is wary of ‘big bet’ transformation programmes.
Strategy connects the purpose of the organisation to the realities of the external world. Teams that understand this have a strong sense of purpose, and strong connections to the world as it is. They have both formal and informal processes that encourage debate and doubt, and they have learned how to disagree without falling out. These processes are more important than any plan. Howell’s assumption is that the group has the answers to the questions they face and that it is usually his job to help them realise that they do.