Expert James Fowler gives us an insight into his online group coaching sessions on business strategy for SMEs.

So what is strategy?

At heart strategy is about choice. But there’s a lot more to it than just flipping a coin and making a decision. Strategy has to be credible, all-encompassing, enduring and hold people to account effectively, otherwise it’s just wasted time and wasted paper.

What can go wrong?

Two things mostly. Firstly, strategy is not the ‘good ideas club’ discussing what the next new, exciting thing that we’re going to is, although that’s often what strategy making degenerates into. It’s about asking tough, focussed questions about why your business exists in the first place, what your business does, why it’s doing it and whether you want or are able to carry on doing it. The answers can be uncomfortable, but that’s what makes them valuable. Secondly, ‘strategy’ can’t be imported as blueprint from another organisation that has been perceived to be successful. It has to be tailor made every time.

Strategy’s made at top, so it’s nothing to do with me?

Yes – and no. The degree to which you have your hands directly on the levers of the strategy making process obviously depends on your seniority and size of your organisation. However, you will always need to understand strategy to work effectively and efficiently, understand what’s being asked of you, explain things to others and assist your managers in lobbying for resources. Understanding your organisation’s strategy will allow you anticipate what’s coming next and why it’s happening.

Why is there so much change and why is often badly managed?

Change works best when those affected take ownership of it. But there’s a paradox here. Up until around the 1980s many people in authority were rewarded for maintaining continuity and tradition. Since then, making changes has become a pre-condition of advancement and a virtual norm. Yet economists and psychologists like Daniel Kahneman and Amon Tversky suggest that most people experience change as loss and are heavily risk adverse. Nevertheless, change is dealt with as a process of project management, not as an issue of managing and understanding stakeholder expectations. The result is that peoples’ fear of loss is disregarded, so they act to minimise their exposure to or involvement in change.

How do strategy and change connect?

Simply, ‘managing change’ is the implementation element of strategy – unless your strategy is to stay put, which inevitably will have to alter at some point! Strategy is deciding what to do, but after that you still have to go and do it successfully, which is where issues of change arise.

Is financial forecasting complicated?

Not really, although like many professions accounting has a detailed and technical lexicon which keeps an aura of mystery and authority around its practitioners. We’re going to look at some simple models which you can use to conduct a quick health check on your business.

Sign up for online coaching

If you'd like to know more about strategy, this online coaching session is available for TALE and I-Construct members.

Strategy, Resilience and Change for SMEs

Join us for 3x3-hour sessions from 9.30am to 12.30pm on the 9th, 15th and 22nd of June 2021.

Email to book your place or to make an enquiry about joining one of our networks.

About James

James joined the University of Essex in 2019 as a Lecturer in Management and Strategy. He was previously a part-time Lecturer at the University of York and a Regular Officer in the Armed Forces where he held a series of appointments in the Educational and Training Services branch.

His mainstream teaching work covered management and leadership, military analysis of strategy, international relations, and cognitive bias. Other related work included advising on the design and delivery of training courses for the Royal Engineers and some foreign Armed Forces.

James had significant engagement with language teaching in the UK and the Middle East, serving as head of the language wing at the Defence College of Intelligence and Security.

Since arriving at Essex, he has taken over the strategy module on the Essex MBA and joined the training company In Professional Development as an associate member.

James has completed a PGCE in Further Education and an MSc in Educational Practice and Innovation. His PhD and subsequent research interests focus on the governance, finance, and leadership of public and private sector organisations.