A guide for us all
ormer HMC chief and head Mike Buchanan reviews a new book offering practical guidance on strategy
The Quick Guide to Effective Strategy by Craig Lawrence is a practical book that provides valuable insights into how organisational leaders can develop and implement effective strategies.
The book is organised around Lawrence’s five stages, each of which covers a specific aspect of strategy development and implementation. He draws heavily on his experience and knowledge of strategic planning from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. While this book is not specifically aimed at schools or the people who lead them, it has much to offer as a primer for those starting out in the area of strategic leadership or those in need some fresh thinking – that’s all of us!
Refreshingly, Lawrence doesn’t seek to elevate strategy to some undeserved intellectual plain. He avoids most jargon and seeks to provide practical tools for the reader to try out.
CLARITY IS KEY
One of the key themes of the book is the importance of having a clear understanding of what strategy means. Lawrence defines strategy as a set of actions designed to achieve a long- term goal or objective, and the guiding principles to use when the inevitable change in conditions occur. He emphasises that strategy is not just about planning or setting goals, but also about making difficult choices and trade-offs. My experience is that many leaders rush to action planning without properly and fully considering the driving purpose of the actions. Starting with the ‘Why?’, as suggested by Simon Sinek, is at the heart of Lawrence’s approach.
The book provides several examples of how (school) leaders can use strategy to make decisions about resource allocation, programme development, and stakeholder engagement. Another important tool presented in the book is the PESTLE analysis, which stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors, and is a framework for analysing the external environment in which an organisation operates. This is particularly apt for independent schools at present
as they face up to the prospect of the tax measures of a future Labour government.
Lawrence explains how school leaders can use the PESTLE analysis to identify opportunities and threats that may affect their school’s performance. He also provides guidance on how to conduct a PESTLE analysis, including tips on gathering data and engaging stakeholders.
In addition to the PESTLE analysis, the book discusses the importance of tracking risks and establishing performance measures, and provides a helpful example of a useable risk matrix. Lawrence explains that risk management is an essential component of effective strategy development and implementation, and provides practical tips on how to identify, assess and mitigate risks. He also emphasises the need to establish performance measures that align with the school’s strategic goals and objectives, and provides guidance on how to develop and track these measures over time. Risk and performance tracking are often neglected in strategic plans as they are the least appealing parts for many people, and yet, the most important.
The book also includes a chapter on governance, which Lawrence defines as the people, systems and processes that ensure the strategy is being managed effectively and efficiently. He explains how school leaders can use governance structures to ensure accountability, transparency, and stakeholder engagement. He also provides guidance on how to establish effective governance structures, including tips on selecting board members, developing policies and procedures, and engaging with stakeholders. Again, this is an area which is typically weak in schools and often leads to the failure of the strategy.
TELL THE STORY
Finally, the book includes advice on communication planning. He explains how effective communication can help school leaders build support for their strategies, engage stakeholders, and ensure alignment between the school’s vision and its actions. He also provides practical tips on how to develop a communication plan, including advice on identifying key messages, selecting communication channels, and engaging with stakeholders.
One of the strengths of The Quick Guide to Effective Strategy is its practicality. The book is filled with carefully selected real-world examples and case studies that illustrate how school leaders can apply the concepts and tools presented in the book to be translated to their own contexts. Lawrence also provides numerous templates and checklists that school leaders can use to facilitate their own strategy development and implementation.
Lawrence writes in a straightforward and accessible style that is easy to follow. The book is well-organised, with each chapter building upon the concepts presented in the previous chapters with useful summaries for catch up and review, including the key tools he has used. I shall certainly be keeping it on my shelf for use in my work with schools and school leaders.
Mike Buchanan is a senior associate of the Association of Education Advisers