Great Strategies Start with Good Arguments
Michael DeVenney
April 4, 2022

If your strategy discussions do not start with a good argument, you are not achieving the potential of the great minds around you or setting your organization on course for success.

Strategy is difficult to do well. Three numbers tell the story of why most strategies fail – first, only a third of executives feel the strategy for the company is clearly defined; second, just 35% of senior leaders believe it will be executed; and, alarmingly, 30% of the senior team disagree with the strategy and remain quiet.

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Why? Most strategies miss a step – the logic that connects the belief to the proposed outcome.

More than ever, strategic discussions are critical, and they need to develop a reasoned and cohesive direction, one that people believe in, are committed to deliver on, and communicate consistently to the workforce for alignment.

While much of our approach to strategy needs to change, the missing step that stands out as making the most positive difference – at the core of great strategies is a sound argument.

Arguing in this sense is not an altercation or a brawl, but a reasoned case of presenting, debating, and deciding on a direction.

In most strategy meetings, people present ideas – with inconsistent reasoning and biased to confirm what everyone wants to hear. Some questions are asked, an agreement is reached, and a strategy is set. People are not convinced and follow their own agenda once out of the boardroom. And then the strategy fails.

To develop a sound and successful strategy for your business, each person engaged in the meeting should bring their argument for the direction of the organization. Their argument is rooted in logic, and prepared to address two essential questions:

  1. How do you know this to be true?
  2. Can you help me understand what leads you to believe that to be true?

A debate can then be framed, following the rules of constructive engagement (mainly, do not make comments personal), to assess the argument as part of the strategy.

Debates are powerful as they help generate curiosity, respect for different perspectives, and lead to invaluable insights, with learning for everyone on the team.

Rather than playing into your confirmation bias, that tendency to provide and interpret evidence that confirms your existing beliefs, your team engages in discussion, sees different data, and engages in a true strategic conversation.

People feel heard, with arguments being taken seriously, for greater commitment. The debate helps people understand how their colleagues see the situation and appreciate the linkages of why a direction might be a strategic choice. The result is reaching a shared alignment around strategic direction, founded in open discussion and reasoned logic, tested for judgment.

We take strategy meetings and offsites for granted, following the same tired process, hoping something amazing will happen. It does not. If everyone agrees with the bold move, is it bold?

Leaders are investing in regular strategic discussions, which is wonderful to see, and the next step is to present arguments that highlight logic and thinking, encourage constructive and engaged debate, and result in decisions that people understand and believe in.

A good argument should not be wasted, especially when setting a strategy. Put an end to slide decks and bring in arguments simplified around two questions and support by the logic of forward-looking and broader data sources. A bold move will be the result.

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