There are many deinitions of strategic intent, but the one this book will use is as follows: “strategic intent relates to the things we put in place to accomplish the future state change.”
This book also distinguishes between strategic thinking and strategic planning. The difference is a large one. Planning is something that managers do and often entails extrapolating from the past in order to predict the near future. It is an extension of an annual budget, something that is calculated. Strategic thinking, by contrast, is something that leaders do. Strategic intents describe steps towards the future state; they are more visionary than calculated; they are more about potential than action plans.
An example of strategic planning: “For the next three years we will grow the business at a rate of 1 per cent per year beyond the experience of the past three years, primarily by introducing our new product X broadly to our customers in North America.”
An example of strategic thinking: “We will continue to grow our business by introducing a broad range of new products designed to reach our goal of being the largest company in our market.”
3 Greenpeace, “Who We Are,” retrieved 21 February 2011 from greenpeace.org/ international/about/our-mission This example of strategic thinking provides the basis for further utilization of the level of thought tool. The next step is to take this to the design (see part two, chapter 4) level of thought. I see this as the opportunity to develop potential scenarios or strategic projects.
For example, if it is our strategic intent to “introduce a broad range of products” to accomplish a vision of the future, then there needs to be further strategic thinking to develop strategic projects that are the best routes to the future we desire. We might think about three to ive different products that are feasible offerings for the market. These are real, not concepts. They are real because we will test them with engineering, R&D, marketing, and manufacturing competencies to ensure they are real. But at this point, we are not taking action or making choices. Rather, we are thinking about the possibilities and becoming comfortable with the range of potential directions.
To summarize, then, formulating direction for change can be viewed in this way:
Vision → Mission → Strategy
The vision is the anchor. It describes what the organization will achieve in the distant future. It is vague in its wording but clear in its aims, and it is achievable. The mission creates unity and develops a commitment to achieving measurable results. It is focused on a shorter term – three to ive years, but sometimes shorter than that. The strategy is a set of statements that are more speciic. They are guides to measurable actions.
Of these three, the strategy is the most lexible. It is a reinement of the organization's vision and mission, and it focuses on actionable projects. It is a tool that leaders can use when selecting the means and ways to create the changes encompassed by the vision and the mission. The leader has both the opportunity and the lexibility – perhaps even the responsibility
– to consider changes in strategy. Indeed, a role model leader should consider changes in strategic intent at least every year or two or even more often. When doing so, she should ask these questions: How have things changed in the past few months in our environment? What have we learned that might suggest a new strategy? How have our competitors changed, and does this force us to change our strategy? What changes does our organization need to make to meet the new challenges of a changing environment and challenging competitors?
In many ways, the skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviours of the role model leader are tested more when strategy is being deined than
at any other time. There is a calmness, a thoughtfulness to developing a vision and a mission; strategy, by contrast, is usually formulated when times are more urgent. Strategizing is a high-energy process. Leaders who succeed at deining the right strategies truly are admirable role model leaders.
Strategy encompasses all the thinking that is required in order to utilize human, physical, inancial, and technological resources with the intent of achieving the organization's vision. It can also be thought of as a means to seek a competitive advantage. The advantage has been realized when the organization has placed itself in a better position than its rivals to meet the needs of stakeholders.
Competitive advantage is important to both proit-oriented organizations and not-for-proit ones. In a proit-oriented business, competitive advantage lows from a strategy that has placed the organization in a better position than its rivals to create economic value for customers. Those customers then reward the organization's efforts with sales revenues that can translate into sustainable growth. In a not-for-proit organization, competitive advantage lows out of a strategy that places it in a better position than other service providers to create real and perceived value for society. Society then rewards these efforts with donations of money, time, and energy, which in turn can translate into sustainable growth for the organization.