Finally, a business strategy book worth reading

There are all too many weak books about strategy. Thankfully, this isn’t one of them, says Dialogue’s expert book columnist

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There are plenty of books on strategy. The cynic in me says these range from glib ‘miracle formula’ books written by plausible self-promoters to the turgid academic tomes of limited applicability. Only a very few have stood the test of time. Discovering that Your Strategy Needs a Strategy was written by three management consultants from the Boston Consulting Group and has an associated iPad app did make me wonder whether I had got the worst of both worlds. But my first impressions proved wrong.
This is a book about choosing the right approach to strategy. The authors show how existing strategy approaches split into five archetypes:
  • classical (be big)
  • adaptive (be fast)
  • visionary (be first)
  • shaping (be the orchestrator)
  • renewal (simply be viable)

Which to go for?  The optimal choice depends on the extent of predictability, malleability, and harshness of the business environment in which the organization is operating. Complex businesses operating in a range of environments should deploy multiple strategies, selecting the appropriate strategy to match each environment.  The authors base their reasoning for why they believe a particular strategy is best suited for which environment and situation on mathematical modelling – which you more or less have to take on trust. However, it did seem to be plausible.

The different strategic archetypes will be familiar to those who have read a reasonable amount of management literature. But for those who are not, or who need reminding, the authors provide helpful side boxes that refer to the theoretical background, well known models and so forth.  The different archetypes are clearly explained and there are useful sections on when to apply a particular approach and how to recognize whether you are in the right business environment to deploy it.  There is also clear guidance at a high level on how to apply a strategy in practice, systematically covering aspects such as the use of information, innovation, organization, culture and leadership. Finally there is a handy ‘tips and traps’ section for each of the strategic approaches. In other words, the authors manage to be both theoretical and practical.

So, after a sceptical start, I found myself gradually being won over. At 271 pages, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy is relatively short and is written in a readable and engaging style. You don’t have to be the aspiring chief executive of a major corporation to find the book useful.

I started finding myself playing the game of relating the preferred business strategy of colleagues to their previous working backgrounds and recognizing their behaviour and attitudes, to
understand better where they were coming from.  This is a book that provides applicable insights even if you are not in the position to be contributing to your organization’s strategic choices. It is useful whatever the size of organization or whichever sector you inhabit.

The book has been entered in this year’s CMI Management Book of the Year competition. It is hard to guess the judges’ thinking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if itturned out to be a very strong contender.


Your Strategy Needs a Strategy: How to Choose and Execute the Right Approach Martin Reeves et al, Harvard Business Review Press 2015.

Piers Cain is head of stakeholder relations at the Chartered Management Institute