I’ve often said that a company should have just one strategy — something that functions as the highest-level guidance for the organization.

So I had to think carefully when I was asked recently about the need for a departmental strategy, that of the IT or marketing department, for example. After all, each operating department — groups that have their own budget and operating plan — will often have a distinct approach. But does that mean they should each have their own strategy, too?

I don’t believe so.

Yes, each operating division needs an action plan against which to manage its work — its own way of allocating resources, approaching problems current and future, even its own slant on team culture.

That said, it is critically important that these plans and goals align with those of other departments and with the overall organizational strategy. Departments are not standalone entities (or, at least, they should not be). Uncoordinated silos can lead to bad investments and problems with execution.

Consider the experience of one of my clients, a biotech company with an organizational strategy that encouraged expectant mothers to store their umbilical cord blood for potential future use.

Unfortunately, the marketing department and sales department had independent strategies and resulting incentives. Marketing was focused on increasing the sheer number of leads; sales was all about closing sales. Not surprisingly, the “success” of the marketing department led to many leads that were far from qualified.

Beyond the confusion and wasted effort that can arise when departmental plans don’t align, there is often the need for departments to support one another in pursuit of the organization’s strategy. For example, if the company strategy depends on creating stronger relationships with constituents or customers, one would expect the IT department to ensure there are data and capabilities in place to support marketing’s efforts to make this happen.

So, what does this mean in practice? Some recommendations…

Ensure Involvement from Across the Organization

Although individual departments should not have their own strategies, they still need to be intimately involved in the development of the company’s overallstrategy.

These people are closer to the customer or constituents and have deep knowledge — deeper than the C-Suite — regarding how things work and what is needed. Failure to involve these people in strategy development risks heading in a direction that is out of step with external needs, desires, practical application, or all three.

Yes, this can slow the process. But the added insights — and later, the increased buy-in and ownership — significantly increase the likelihood that the resulting plan will be understood and well executed.

Make the Process Iterative

I’ve often led strategic development efforts by defining some basic scenarios — possible paths forward that may even represent more extreme approaches. These are designed primarily to trigger discussion and generate more ideas on the path to ultimately creating the preferred scenario.

In other words, you are not going to get it right the first time.

Here as well, when you engage the various departments in understanding and contributing to the analysis behind your high-level strategic goals and objectives, they can contribute valuable insights to the plan development.

Remember That Strategy is About Choices

In addition to deciding what your organization will and will not do, you have to make choices regarding which (always scarce) resources will be deployed and how. This includes staffing and investing, which generally translates to departmental budget allocations, often reallocating from one department to another.

For example, in my work with a division of the American Nurses Association, we found we could fund an important new communications initiative almost entirely by reallocating marketing dollars that had been used in ineffective ways and were no longer aligned with new priorities.

Granted, the departments on the “losing end” of a budget reallocation may not like it initially. But if everyone is aligned behind a single organizational strategy, they understand the need to shift and pivot as things invariably evolve.


The key to a good strategy lies in its execution. In order for that to occur, the strategy needs to be both comprehensive and coordinated — with all parts of the organization pulling in the same direction.

A single strategy provides the high-level roadmap needed for developing operating plans and ensuring effective execution across the organization.


Powered by BlueSky Branding