HBR Guide to Setting Your Strategy: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Setting Your Strategy
HBR Editors and Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (August 2020)

“The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do.” Michael Porter

This is one of the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in Harvard Business Review. Having read all of them when they were published individually, and then most of them in a previously published anthology, I can personally attest to the high quality of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights as well as the eloquence with which they are expressed. This collection has two substantial value-added benefits that should also be noted: If all of the 24 articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $220; also, they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for only $16.78 and the material is easily potable.

That’s not a bargain; that’s a steal.

Those in need of setting or resetting their organization’s strategy will find the material in this HBR book invaluable. Authors of the articles focus on one or more components of a process by which to understand what strategy is…and isn’t; decide which game to play, where, and how to win it; conduct more much productive strategic discussions with stakeholders; test and evaluate strategy in order to maximize buy-in before full implementation; maintain high-impact communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration between and among stakeholders; and ensure that the strategy continues to be flexible and adaptable.

The articles are organized within six Sections: “What Is Strategy?” (Chapters 1-3), “Lay the Foundation” (4-7), “Develop Your Strategy” (8-13), and “Test Your Strategic Choices” (14-17),  “Communicating Your Strategy” (18-20), and Execute the Strategy And Learn from It” (21-24). 

These are among the articles of special interest to me, also cited to suggest the scope of coverage.

o “Five Myths About Strategy, and WhyThey’re Wrong,”  Stephen Bungay
o “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy,” Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Philip Tillmans
o “Strategy Needs Creativity: Four Approaches to Building a Breakthrough Strategy,”  Adam Brandenberger
o “Four Types of Competition That Can Threaten Your Company,” Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter
o “Four Ways to Pressure-Test Your Strategy,”  Rick Lynch and Jay Galeota
o  “A Simple Way to Test Your Company’s Alignment” at all levels of the given enterprise, Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varcoe
o “Discussing Strategy Across Cultures: Diverse Teams Come with DiverseStrategic Viewpoints,”  Leonard M. Fuld
o “Strategy Is All About Practice: Work, Work, and Work Some More,”  Roger Martin

All of the articles in all of the HBR anthologies — including this one — are of exceptionally high quality. The authors’ recommendations are practical and do-able as well as redundantly validated by extensive real-world experience. Most (not all) of the material can be of incalculable value to leaders in almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

I presume to add a few thoughts of my own. First, I highly recommend highlighting key passages and keeping a lined notebook near at hand in which to record your comments, questions, page references, etc. Next, strategies (“hammers”) drive tactics (“nails”). Don’t get so caught up in WHAT to do and not do that you neglect WHY. Finally, there are no finance issues, HR issues, IT issues, marketing issues, etc…there are only BUSINESS issues. Keep that in mind, especially when making decisions.



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