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Recognizing a Bad Strategy: Lessons in Leadership for Healthcare Marketing Strategists

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Person in suit writing a strategy flow chart in black ink

The Perils of Bad Strategy

Don’t you just love it when a good plan comes together?

As we speak with the principals and executives of hospitals, professional societies, medical groups and other healthcare organizations, a regular challenge is to help shape and execute an effective business and marketing strategy. And it’s gratifying when a good strategy wins the day. Goals are met or exceeded, and everyone wins.

A good strategy, according to author and UCLA management professor Richard Rumelt, almost always looks simple and obvious in retrospect. But, he cautions, “It does not pop out of some strategic-management tool, matrix, triangle, or fill-in-the-blanks scheme.

“Instead, a talented leader has identified the one or two critical issues in a situation—the pivot points that can multiply the effectiveness of effort—and then focused and concentrated action and resources on them. A good strategy does more than urge us forward toward a goal or vision; it honestly acknowledges the challenges we face and provides an approach to overcoming them.”

A bad strategy has a serious downside for business in general and, from our perspective, medical marketing in particular. And when senior executives can identify “bad strategy,” says Dr. Rumelt, they stand a better chance of creating good strategies. A talented leader identifies the one or two critical issues in a situation—the pivot points that can multiply the effectiveness of effort—and then focused and concentrated action and resources on them.

“Make no mistake: the creeping spread of bad strategy affects us all. Heavy with goals and slogans, governments have become less and less able to solve problems. Corporate boards sign off on strategic plans that are little more than wishful thinking,” Rumelt says. “The only remedy is for us to demand more from those who lead. More than charisma and vision, we must demand good strategy.”

In this probing and thoughtful McKinsey Quarterly article, The perils of bad strategy, Rumelt warns that, “Too many organizational leaders say they have a strategy when they do not. Like a quarterback whose only advice to his teammates is ‘let’s win,’ bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision, and values. Each of these elements is, of course, an important part of human life. But, by themselves, they are not substitutes for the hard work of strategy.”

How do you know bad strategy? Rumelt’s key hallmarks condense to four points: the failure to face the challenge, mistaking goals for strategy, bad strategic objectives, and fluff. Conversely, the kernel of good strategy has, Rumelt says, a basic underlying structure of:

  • A diagnosis: an explanation of the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as being the critical ones.
  • A guiding policy: an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
  • Coherent actions: steps that are coordinated with one another to support the accomplishment of the guiding policy.

You can read the full article here, and let us know what you think. We’re reminded of the Japanese proverb that fits with many healthcare marketing situations that we observe. It says: Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

Are you caught up in the perils of a bad strategy? If you’d like to talk it over with someone, we're here to help.

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