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For Romney and Managers Everywhere, How Do You Fix Bad Strategy?

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On Sunday evening, Politico published a report detailing turmoil, in-fighting and mismanagement within the Romney campaign. Pointing to critics within Romney's own party, the report details the concerns of party insiders about Team Romney's strategy--from missed opportunities in Tampa and an aversion to policy specifics to a hastily assembled acceptance speech and response to the attacks on the US consulate in Libya.

Regardless of politics, the Romney team's current situation is not unique. Many organizations come to this juncture--a juncture where current strategy isn’t sufficient and a course correction is required. Whether running for President or managing an agency, how do you retool ineffective strategy? 

McKinsey Quarterly has a few questions they advise all managers ask themselves when looking to gut check their current strategy: 

  1. Will your strategy beat the [competition]? "As each player responds to and learns from the actions of others, best practice becomes commonplace rather than a market-beating strategy," says the report. "Good strategies emphasize difference…[and] weaker contenders win surprisingly often...when they deploy a divergent strategy.” 
  2. Does your strategy put you ahead of trends? According to the report, "Always look to the edges. How are early adopters and that small cadre of consumers who seem to be ahead of the curve acting? What are small, innovative entrants doing? What technologies under development could change the game?"
  3. Does your strategy rest on privileged insights? As our own Dana Grinshpan discussed last week, data can be comforting—and deceiving. According to the report, "data today can be cheap, accessible, and easily assembled into detailed analyses that leave executives with the comfortable feeling of possessing an informed strategy.” Understand what data is actually telling you and make sure it’s truly useful when informing strategic decision making.
  4. Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility? "Commitment and flexibility exist in inverse proportion to each other," says the report. "The greater the commitment you make, the less flexibility remains. This tension is one of the core challenges of strategy. Indeed, strategy can be expressed as making the right trade-offs over time between commitment and flexibility.”
  5. Is your strategy contaminated by bias? The report warns against proceeding with strategy colored by your own biases: "The worst offenders include overoptimism (our tendency to hope for the best and believe too much in our own forecasts and abilities), anchoring (tying our valuation of something to an arbitrary reference point), loss aversion (putting too much emphasis on avoiding downsides and so eschewing risks worth taking), the confirmation bias (overweighting information that validates our opinions), herding (taking comfort in following the crowd), and the champion bias (assigning to an idea merit that’s based on the person proposing it)."
  6. Have you translated your strategy into an action plan? "In implementing any new strategy, it’s imperative to define clearly what you are moving from and where you are moving to,” says the report. "Develop a detailed view of the shifts required to make the move, and ensure that processes and mechanisms, for which individual executives must be accountable, are in place to effect the changes. Quite simply, this is an action plan."

McKinsey’s report is very detailed, with several other critical questions you should ask yourself when reassessing or formulating a strategy. Read more at McKinsey Quarterly.

When you realize a strategy isn't working, how do you course correct? 

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Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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