Steve Irwin, the Queensland Government and why your organisation needs a strategy team

Any Australian who travels will understand there are certain standard responses when you tell locals you are Australian. These include our deadly and adorable wildlife, unique architecture, (nearly) indestructible currency, war cry and national treasure, patron saint of men wearing khaki short shorts and stingray victim Steve ‘the croc hunter’ Irwin.

Prior to his passing, Steve’s on screen wildlife adventures had helped him become a rather wealthy individual. Given he and his wife Terri’s love for the environment, it may be unsurprising that they would use their wealth to help protect it. One of the ways they did this was to purchase land across the north-east Australian State of Queensland to create wildlife havens and protect natural areas from development.

Some might see Steve and Terri’s action as unnecessary, suggesting instead that society as a whole takes care of the balance between land development and the intergenerational equity of conserving the environment. Indeed governments at all levels do take such action with the establishment of green areas, State and national parks to allocate areas of conservation.

Steve seemed to understand that when something is everyone’s responsibility, it quickly becomes no one’s responsibility. To look at the role the Queensland government has played in dredging the Great Barrier Reef to create a coal port the short termism under diluted resposibility becomes quite plain to see. Keeping the long term view of the Great Barrier Reef as an important tourism asset for generations when there are short term gains on the table is a hard task for governments that want their revenue now.

The same is true of business. Strategy is often treated as a team responsibility, brain stormed with sticky notes on management team away days at some cabin if you’re lucky (handed to you by Bain & co if you’re not). And when it is codified into a weighty tome the cliff notes are announced to the organisation with great fanfare, after which the tome is promptly put into storage and everyone goes back to work.

It’s natural. After those 3 away days building the strategy, management teams return to a backlog of day-to-day work that needs clearing and the noble goal of maintaining strategy can’t compete with the simple need to get work done.

An (effective) dedicated strategy team bridges the gap between the cabin and the workplace. It provides a resource that supports the organisation in keeping functions aligned and moving forward together. Strategy teams aren’t there to dictate direction but to support the collective plan of action and provide managers with a research and knowledge resource necessary to adapt as the ‘unknown unknowns’ that inevitably arise.

When there is a problem with finance, it goes to finance. When there is a problem with marketing, it goes to marketing. When there is a problem with HR, it goes to HR. When there is a problem with strategy, it goes to…?

Often responsibility for strategy is viewed as the domain of an organisation’s leadership. It is vital that leaders are invested in and accountable for the path they chose to take. However, to expect leaders to be able to execute all the research and analysis required to build, maintain and correct strategies on top of their day to day management duties would be a disservice to the shear volume of decisions and actions leaders are faced with every day.

The time of leadership is always at a premium. A supportive strategy function frees leaders from the ‘grunt work’ of strategy and allows them to focus on their role to review, probe, decide and lead.

Steve Irwin wanted a sustainable environment and was willing to invest personally in taking responsibility and acquiring the resources for it. He did not rely on the larger social group to collectively achieve this state because when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

If your organisation is truly interested in competing strategically it is important to take responsibility and resource your strategy for the rocky road ahead. Rely on collective responsibility and an under resourced leadership and your strategy will be bounced right out the window at the first bump in the road.

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