Strategy: We’re Playing the Game All Wrong

By Stuart Rhys Thomas, Co-Founder of Masgroves

Often when I struggle to understand something, I drop it into a sporting context as this helps to make sense of it.

It’s what I did when I first struggled to understand ‘strategy.’

Today, I do. Or at least I think I do, in my own simple way.


“A strategy is a plan.”
“A strategy is a plan.”
“A strategy is a plan.”


Which is why I found it difficult to comprehend the ‘stat’ saying 2 out of 3 business strategies fail. Or that a mere 26% of change strategies are rated ‘very’ or ‘completely successful.’

Why create a plan simply to let it fail?

The answer is in the detail. Most strategies fail because of poor execution.

It’s like deciding to build your own home. Creating a vision (a plan) of what it looks like is relatively easy. The hard work really begins when you break ground and start building it… brick by brick.


Strategy is the same.


It is relatively easy to create a vision. The hard work begins when you have to start building – brick by brick – the things that will make your plan come to life.

When you have to start executing your plan (the strategy).


Which brings me back to sport. When it comes to business strategy, we’re playing the game all wrong.


Does this sound like a business you’ve worked in?

Leaders share the plan at the start of the year at some kind of ‘all employee’ event. Updates are given at certain points during the year – maybe at a monthly team brief. Then you arrive at year end hoping the plan has worked.

If not, leaders re-write the plan and repeat the same process, hoping for better.

Can you imagine a coach of a football team behaving in the same way?


“Here’s the plan for the season, folks! I’ll come back and see how you’re getting on after game 12… 24… 36… and fingers-crossed we have a good season… leave you to it!”


For leaders to ensure their strategy delivers, here are the five things they should do:



Make sure everyone has a deep understanding of the plan – spend 100% of your time explaining… re-explaining… helping people to understand the plan as well as you do.



Look at things that no longer fit with your plan – and get rid. Realigning ‘everything’ means looking at processes, behaviours and everything that you do through the lens of “Does this fit?”.



Be clear you measure what matters. Like a car, there are a few key indicators to lock-on to – the rest is just noise. If you keep measuring the same stuff every year, you’ve not asked “Does this fit?”



If anyone behaves in a way that does not align with your plan, it is your role to hold people to account. They know the plan; they know to ask “Does this fit;” the key indicators, too. So, why are they doing things that don’t contribute?



Involving people is vital and is more than simply sharing an occasional update. Give them the power to make a difference. If they know what they’re doing, get out of their way!


Like a great sports coach, your people are the players… you? The person charged with getting them ready to have the game of their lives.


Leaders! It’s time to play a different game.