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The Herald – Zimbabwe
By: Simon Bere
One of the features in many circles where Zimbabwe’s economic situation is discussed is the anomalous mystery of having a highly educated populace leading or enduring an economy that has been burdened for close to two decades.
There is a belief that education as we know it is all that is required to deliver economic and organisational results and from that perspective it makes sense for anyone to wonder at the glaring disparity between high literacy levels and Zimbabwe’s economic performance.
However, viewing things from a strategy perspective, there is nothing unusual to have a highly literate society failing to return their economy to prosperity and growth. Academic qualifications and technical expertise certainly matter as vital inputs, but strategy, not academic qualifications and not resources, drive performance and results.
The first fatal flaw in the search for economic solutions, therefore, becomes over-hoping on academic qualifications and financial and natural resources to deliver results in the absence of strategy and a strategic approach. But why is strategy and the strategic approach even important?
Strategy originated in the military before it spread to academia and the corporate world. The main objective for strategy was to help the armies find the best possible way of winning against the enemy in the fastest way possible, with the minimum loss of life and resources. A major part of strategy was coming up with a methodical and considered way of making sound decisions regarding committing men and assets to a war with the first important questions being: Must we engage in the war in the first place? If we are to engage in this war, what are odds of us winning the war? And; if we want to win the war, what would be our best approach for engaging in the war?
Strategy also involves estimating the timeframes as well as estimating and mobilising the resources required to achieve the objectives. Once the strategy is operational, results must be measured, progress reviewed and adjustments to strategy and performance made in accordance with the ground realities and the evolving situation. In other words, strategy is continuously managed until a decision to cease the campaign is made. Strategy does not always guarantee victory or success, but strategy delivers better results than no strategy. The strategic always prevails over the tactical approach. The strategic approach functions as follows:
- a) The strategic approach considers many variables, options and possibilities and minimises the danger of engaging in a very costly course of action, especially one that can leave a people in a worse situation than it was before the course of action.
- b) The approach ensures a better application of resources and improves the odds that objectives set are achieved with reasonably high accuracy and least costs.
- c) It enhances the mobilisation, coordination and commission of resources and assets to the campaign, improving the overall performance in fulfilling the mission.
- d) The strategic approach uses processes, systems and tools, thus improving reliability, ease of sharing and comparing and increasing the probability of delivering desired results.
- e) Strategy and the strategic approach provide clear processes and pathways for moving from problems to their resolutions; from a vision to its realisation and from a goal to its attainment. This is in sharp contrast to the flawed view propagated in the corporate and academia that strategy and execution are two different things. Any strategy that fails to execute cannot be called a strategy in the real sense of strategy.
- f) Strategy and the strategic approach help with reality checks, ensuring that promises are based on what is possible under given situations and within given timeframes.
The big anomaly is that, outside where it originated, strategy is more common talk in the academia and the corporate world and almost silent at economic levels where it is needed most due to the complexity of challenges at the economic levels and the level of coordination and mobilisation required to deliver performance and results at the economic level. Economics is predominantly policy-obsessed; while policies are important, it is strategy that links directly with performance and results.
There are many models for strategy formulation and strategic planning that can be used at economic level. My favourite model is the SVIGSPEAR model which is underpinned by the following questions?
- i) What is the real situation, for strategy succeeds on accurate assessment of the situation?
- ii) What is the desired vision?
iii) What are the detailed images and intricacies associated with the desired vision?
- iv) What specific goals must we achieve along the way to the attainment of our vision?
- v) What is strategy or strategies required for attaining the vision?
- vi) What performance is required to accomplish the mission, and how do we build that performance?
No strategy succeeds if it is not backed by the level of performance that is equal to, or, at best, exceeds the level of performance required to fulfil the mission and attain the vision. This includes the knowledge, skills and knowhow required, bearing in mind that academic qualifications do not always imply skill. In short, performance is a product of capacity and capability.
vii) What is the best execution plan for fulfilling the mission and realising the vision?
vii) Who and what must be aligned to the vision and mission and to each other for success to be attained?
When people who are supposed to execute the mission are not aligned to the vision, results will be bad or poor.
viii) What resources are required, in what quantities and in what physical and temporal sequences are required to accomplish the mission and attain the vision? How do we get the resources and from who?
Without enough resources nothing gets accomplished.
The big part is mission-oriented, goal-directed action. Without mission oriented, goal directed action plans become useless.
The estimation of timeframes for attaining the vision and accomplishing the mission are vital elements of the strategic approach. Underestimation of time is fatal.
The how part of dealing with a situation is a critical component of the strategic approach. For example, with regard to solving Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, there are four strategic approaches and choices;
1) To create a new economy
2) To maintain, preserve and improve the current economy or
3) To recreate the past economy
4) To use a composite of the three above approaches
With the strategic approach, we then start with choosing from the four how we want to solve the problem. The rest of the effort will be underpinned by our choice.
While there might be other effective approaches to solving Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, the strategic approach promises to deliver results because its principles are proven and processes clear and simple. Maybe that is what Zimbabwe wants.