Blog Post 5 – ‘Don’t be evil’
Responding to Can You Say What Your Strategy Is? By David J Collis and Michael G Rukstad - HBR
Executives who painstakingly craft detailed strategic documents often miss the secret ingredient of a good strategy: simplicity. If a strategy is not applicable and understandable on all levels of the business, it is unlikely to realize any significant impact. A strategy can act as the glue which holds many disparate silos of the business together and provides cohesion and common purpose. It should be clear enough to be conveyed in 35 words or less. A good strategy needs Objective, Scope, and Advantage.
During a meeting in 1999 about corporate values, Google employee Paul Buchheit proposed a company slogan of “Don’t Be Evil”. While not exactly a strategy, this jab at their competitors was actually the genesis of a culture and ethos that would shape Google strategy for years to come. How can three words define the strategy of the nebulous and yet seemingly omnipotent and omniscient monolith known as Google? Simple, in the words of Eric Schmidt “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” Essentially, Google’s strategy is not a dictum of what ‘to do’, but instead a guideline of what ‘not to do’. This way of thinking helps empower creative talent and engineers across the organization in their day to day work. They understand that they are expected to push the limits, to bend the rules, and to not be evil in doing so. This approach, combined with unrivaled talent management has yielded one of the most influential companies in the world.
Although the authors present a structured approach to strategy setting by defining the three pillars of the strategy triad, their efforts to standardize strategy may be somewhat limiting.
Many companies, including Google and this week’s case study (Ben and Jerry’s) grew despite the ‘foundation’ of a textbook strategy. The merits of having clear Objective, Scope, and Advantage cannot be discounted – but there should be a time and place for rigid strategy. If ever these three elements conflict with Collis and Ruckstad’s first prerequisite (simplicity), then they should be considered secondary requirements.
Executives need to consider the maturity of their business and the culture they want to espouse before adopting rigid management principles (including strategy planning). For many startups, the objective and advantage might be something founders can agree upon, while the scope is left up for evolution. On the other hand, many established businesses might box themselves in by narrowing in on an objective that is contrary to external factors in the market. I believe the authors would probably agree that finding a strategy which can serve as a rallying call across all departments might be mutually exclusive to a strategy that rigorously meets the criteria outlined in their article.