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  • Writer's pictureDavid Cope

Retraining as a Unicorn Jockey: What's the Point of Strategy and Plans Anyway?

Updated: Feb 6, 2020



Many of us believe that the idea of the Board or CEO having enough control over all the various moving parts that enable or inhibit organisational success is a complete unicorn of an idea. We’ve relied on strategies and plans to help us steer and navigate organisations towards success for decades, but I have now started thinking that strategies and plans as tools for steering organisations towards success are just mythical unicorn jockeys.


I’m writing this on the train back home after a two day conference with strategy planners and performance analysts from Universities across the country. The conference title was Value And The Greater Good. It was really thought provoking, and the most provocative thought that I can’t get out of my head is ‘what use is strategy as a tool to achieve value and the greater good in a world which is so uncertain and polarised?’


I really want to believe in unicorns!


I’m a strategist, and I really want to believe that strategies and plans help deliver value to stakeholders. But I now think that I need to retrain as a modern unicorn jockey to make sure that my tools are still useful in modern leadership. In my current world of Higher Education, but in other public service and charitable organisations too, we spend a lot of energy on creating strategies and plans, so maybe we all need to retrain.


What will a unicorn jockey strategists need to do in order to create a successful strategy?


Perhaps the best hope for the modern strategist or planner is to focus in on creating organisational alignment and commitment as the most important product of the strategy creation process. The strategy itself would be a necessary product too, but not sufficient if we want to deliver exceptional value to our stakeholders. The only good strategies are ones that deliver results. My thinking is that in order to maximise the probability of success, the strategic process must generate alignment and commitment among the leadership group and the staff community as a whole.


That alignment and commitment could come through a strategic process that will tap into our logos, pathos and ethos. A strategy that is rational, exciting and connected to our core values is more likely to elicit action amongst those who will deliver on it. This is the anatomy of a successful strategy because it will be in our head, our heart and our soul, so that the feet will take us forward.


Ethos, pathos and logos


Taking ethos first, what character and values do our organisations want and need in order to achieve value for our stakeholders? Ethics in business has had an obviously high profile public debate in the recent past, but charities and public service organisations have not been immune from it either, see scandals in Oxfam, Cambridge University or elsewhere. Establishing a common understanding of ethics, through open discussion with staff creates strong personal connection and team spirit.


Pathos creates energy, passion and commitment. What is it that will get the emotional juices flowing amongst our teams? Storytelling is a major aspect of inspiring leadership as it is such a great way of creating emotional energy. The burning platform for change can evoke fear or anxiety. Understanding how to engage the emotions of people throughout the organisation, and giving them the opportunity to manage their feelings for positive change, is a crucial part of the modern strategist’s toolkit.


Logos as the last element is the most traditional part of strategy work. Understanding the numbers, creating the logic that connects this action to that outcome and calculating the return on investment. There is definitely still a place for all of this to set the direction for an organisation, especially with new tools around calculating contributions to social value or natural capital. But with the development of agile methods of project management, creating, testing and adapting are the new watchwords.


We can all be unicorn jockeys now


The best strategies, when implemented effectively, deliver exceptional value to stakeholders and work well for the greater good.


Why do I believe that this combination of strategy tools will help us become unicorn jockeys and create successful strategies and plans? The combination of direction, enthusiasm and team cohesion feels like the perfect mix that will allow organisations to be successful.


If this blog has made you think that 'yes, there is a use for strategies and plans in my organisation', get in touch to find out how 600 strategy can help you.

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