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Darkest before the dawn (how to explain what a strategy should look like)

V – so you want to write a blog about your experience of helping to write a strategy and you want me to help?

A – yes.

V – and you want me to do what exactly?

A – just be someone to bounce ideas off.

V – but I’m fictitious!

A – Oh don’t say that.  Let’s just say you’re another part of me.

V – anyway, tell me more what you want to write about.

A – I’ve been involved – along with a number of other people – in developing a local mental health strategy.

V – and how long have you been doing it?

A – we started just over two years ago.  We had a good start, but then it lost its way a bit.  Now, though, I think we may be getting somewhere.  I think I’ve almost developed the bones of a strategy.

V – you must be pleased.

A – More nervous than pleased.  I’m not confident I can make that final step to produce something that looks like a strategy.

V – but you’re not the only one doing this.  Can’t you come up with some ideas together?

A – the trouble is, I don’t think the others have a clear view of what a strategy is-

V – you mean they don’t agree with you?

A – maybe.  Anyway, there’s a risk they’ll settle for something less than a proper strategy.

V – you seem very sure about this; can’t you just tell them what a strategy should look like?

A – maybe.  I’ve tried to describe it in principle, like in this blog, but it’s very general and I don’t think it’s very convincing.

V – OK, well what is it in simple terms?

A – it should in general, broad brush terms, say where we’re trying to get to and how we’re going to get there.

V – that’s a bit too general.  Couldn’t you give an example, if not from the world of health then some other sphere?

A – Well, companies need an approach to try and beat the competition.  Maybe they’ll compete on price, maybe on quality.

V – or find new markets?

A – yes, could be.  Apple’s approach, for instance, is to go for quality over price.

V – people are prepared to pay for an iphone.

A – yes, marketing is an important part of the mix.  But their strategy is more than that.  They didn’t enter the smartphone market too early.  The technology and potential were changing and other companies were trying new things.  So Apple developed those ideas and so were also able to compete on functionality and usability.

V – OK, so the strategy is the broad approach to meeting your objectives.  Is there anything else you can say about it – are there things a strategy ought to have?

A – well there need to be objectives and some idea how you’re going to achieve them.  It’s not enough to just say, ‘we’re going to reduce obesity’ – how are you going to do it.

It needs some underlying logic.  It’s not enough to just say, we’ll carry on with our stop smoking, teenage pregnancy and mental health in schools projects, without having looked at the alternatives, and being clear this is actually the best approach and why.

V – I see what you mean, you really are having difficulty explaining this, aren’t you.

A – Thanks.  Well hopefully I’ll have a summary mental health strategy by next month and that will be an example which may help persuade people.

V – do you think you’ll be able to manage it?

A – I have to say I’m a bit worried.  What if it comes to next month and I have nothing to say?

V – don’t worry, no-one reads this blog anyway.

A – no, not that.  This next big mental health strategy meeting is in three weeks and I really need something by then.  In fact, there’s a planning meeting next week, and I have to be able to persuade them.

V – don’t worry, I’ve got faith in you.  And just remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

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