Your Strategy’s Teleology: Setting Strategic Intent First

The Theory

Teleology is the explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose or goal. The teleology of a saw is to cut, a hammer to pound, a conveyor to convey. In other words, the teleology or purpose of these things, the reason they were designed in the first place, is to accomplish some goal or end.

Each of these things came into being following a teleological process: problem to be solved -> solution design -> execution of solution. Then came adjustment and improvements to make it better at fulfilling its purpose.


So What?

Good strategy begins with understanding the strategy's teleology. At ThinkWay, we call this the Strategic Intent. What's the purpose or goal of the strategy? What's the strategy supposed to accomplish? Well-known strategist, Professor Roger Martin, calls this step "problem definition". "A strategy process will be largely worthless without an identified problem that it is designed to solve", he wrote.

Ditto Strategic Intent. Without a clear Strategic Intent, any direction, path forward or strategy will do.


An Example of Bad Teleology in Strategy

Fourteen iterations, five of them complete rewrites. That was what it took to deliver my last assignment before leaving my strategy position at Kraft Foods. I was tasked with developing the global supply chain strategy for what was then a $45B consumer products behemoth. I began as I always did by pulling together all the relevant facts, performance data and research for a well grounded strategy, interviewed senior leaders and functional department heads from the CEO down and held strategy meetings so I could zero in on the challenge. But to no avail. Each time I met with the EVP of global supply chain to discuss our progress, he made sweeping changes and further requests. Finally, after fourteen rounds and considerable pain and anguish, the "strategy" was pronounced complete.

But it wasn't a strategy. The EVP had a hidden teleology for this particular "strategy". It was designed to impress the Board of Directors with all that he had accomplished, not lay out a path forward to achieve an overall strategic intent. What a waste of time and effort.


An Approach That Starts With Strategic Intent

It is so important to start with a clear Strategic Intent that we put it at the center of our strategy model. It not only defines the purpose of the strategy, it provides guidance to the situation analysis, identification of strategic issues that might derail efforts, the development of insights and objectives, and the eventual development of strategies and tactics to achieve the original purpose of the strategy.

Whether you use the ThinkPoints model or some other approach, start with defining the teleology, the purpose, the strategic intent of the strategy. Then all the work you do and the strategies and tactics you choose can be judged by whether or not you are achieving the purpose for which your strategy has been designed.