“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A few months ago, I wrote a post discouraging the use of template strategies simply because they don’t work. Since that time, I have thought more about it and have come to the conclusion that working from any strategy—even a template strategy—is better than working from no strategy at all. The point of my previous post was that one organization’s strategy (the template) will not work for another organization for very long. Especially if the two organizations work in different industries, markets, product areas, etc.
However, I have come to the conclusion that that there is nothing wrong with using a template strategy as a springboard into a unique, properly thought-out, well-organized and executed strategic plan. Some strategic planners may ask, “If a certain strategy works for one of our competitors, why not simply duplicate it instead of reinventing the wheel?” The answer is simply this: an organization’s strategy is not the “wheels” of the organization; it is more like the engine. Just as different vehicles require different engines with widely differing specifications, different organizations—though they may compete in the same industry, market, etc.—require different specifications, or nuances, in their strategies. Can you imagine driving around town in a Ford F350 that has a Geo Metro engine in it? On the other hand, can you imagine driving a Geo Metro with a Ford F350 engine in it? The thought is quite comical.
Again, beginning any strategic planning effort with a template strategy is fine, as long as the work to customize the strategy to the needs of the organization is implemented along the way. Planners using a template need to be cautious; to wait too long to implement customized aspects of the strategy into the overall strategic plan could be disastrous. Failing to address the capabilities of the organization before the needs are pressing would be catastrophic. If you are driving the Ford F350 with a Geo Metro engine in it, what do you think will happen when you come to a hill? What if the hill is steep? The engine seriously lacks the power required to get that vehicle up the hill, and an endeavor like that will probably burn out the engine and leave you stuck on the side of the road. Imagine driving the Geo Metro with a Ford F350 engine in it around a sharp curve. You are cruising right along going really fast because that engine has a lot more power than the vehicle body can handle. When you come to a curve, what do you think is going to happen. Exactly—you are going to crash and burn. High-powered engines make no sense in little, light-weight vehicles.
The key to successfully using a template strategy is customizing it to the needs of the organization. Over time, because the strategy has been customized and tailored to the specific needs of the organization, the strategy will look nothing like it did in template form. At that point, the template did its job, and the planners did their jobs, and the organization is better off because of it.