Five Disqualifiers of Strategy


In the realm of business strategy, clarity and focus are paramount. In his insightful exploration of strategic formulation, Peter Compo introduces a pragmatic approach to evaluating the robustness of a strategy through what he terms the “Five Disqualifiers of Strategy.” These disqualifiers serve as a litmus test to ascertain not just the presence of a strategy but its potential effectiveness and alignment with the organization’s goals. Let’s delve into each disqualifier to understand how they can be applied to refine strategic thinking.

1. The Opposite Disqualifier: Is the Opposite of the Strategy Statement Absurd?

The first disqualifier asks whether the opposite of the strategy statement is absurd. This is a powerful litmus test for the strategy’s specificity and relevance. A strategy that states something so broad that its opposite would be universally accepted or considered a norm lacks the necessary focus. For instance, if a strategy statement is “We aim to be innovative,” the opposite, “We aim not to innovate,” is absurd, indicating the statement is too generic. A more focused strategy would delineate how and where the organization intends to innovate, making its opposite conceivable and a clear choice against which the organization has decided.

2. The Numbers Disqualifier: Does the Statement Include Numbers and Dates?

The presence of numbers and dates in a strategy statement is a critical measure of concreteness and time-bound nature. The “Numbers Disqualifier” challenges the strategy to include specific targets and deadlines, moving it beyond vague aspirations. A statement like “We will increase market share” is less compelling than “We aim to capture 30% of the market by Q4 2025.” The latter provides a clear target and timeline, making the strategy actionable and measurable.

3. The Duplicate Disqualifier: Is the Statement the Same as the Parent Strategy?

A strategy must distinguish itself from the parent strategy or the organisation’s overarching goals. The “Duplicate Disqualifier” examines whether the strategy statement merely echoes higher-level strategic objectives without adding a layer of specificity or direction. A strategy replicating the broader goals without tailoring them to specific contexts or operational levels within the organization fails this test. Each strategy layer must refine and adapt the overarching goals to its unique challenges and opportunities.

4. The Excluded Disqualifier: Assessing Universal Applicability

Strategies should be inclusive and applicable across the organization, ensuring no critical area is inadvertently excluded. The “Excluded Disqualifier” prompts a review of the strategy’s scope to verify its relevance to all system parts. If a strategy statement implicitly or explicitly leaves out significant segments of the organization, it may signal a lack of integration or foresight, undermining the strategy’s effectiveness and cohesion.

5. The List Disqualifier: Is the Statement a List?

Lastly, the “List Disqualifier” scrutinizes the strategy for an over-reliance on listing actions or objectives without a unifying theme or direction. A strategy that resembles a to-do list rather than a coherent statement of intent and direction lacks the depth and focus required for practical strategic guidance. The strategy must articulate an overarching aim that guides decision-making and action rather than merely enumerating tasks.

Conclusion: Beyond Validation to Efficacy

Passing these five disqualifiers validates the existence of a strategy but does not guarantee its success. The next step is to rigorously assess the strategy’s alignment with the organization’s vision, its responsiveness to the competitive landscape, and its feasibility, given its resources and capabilities. A good strategy is not just about avoiding common pitfalls but about articulating a clear, compelling vision that mobilizes the organization towards achieving its goals. In this light, Peter Compo’s Five Disqualifiers of Strategy offers a foundational checklist to refine strategic thinking, ensuring that strategies are present and poised for success.

Peter’s book “The Emergent Approach” is well worth a read. More information here

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By Andrew Constable MBA, LSSBB

Keywords: Business Strategy, Innovation, Leadership

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