“Hope is not a strategy.”
The holiday season, and 2020, ended with little fanfare. Messages of hope from world leaders and ordinary people abound at the end of the old year and the onset of the new one. A cursory look at the search engine counted 1 billion of such messages, expressing hope that the pandemic ends this year, that economies bounce back this year, that one’s business recovers this year, and that we and our families remain healthy this year.
The grim year that was 2020 has elevated the term “hope” to everyone’s cognitive lexicon.
Why not? There’s already the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine in the near horizon, and on this our renewed sense of hope is hinged.
Merriam-Webster defines hope as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfilment” and an “expectation of fulfilment or success.” Expectation and belief are key operative descriptors of hope. It is grounded on reality; it is based on what one sees as probable and possible.
But staunch advocates of action and execution will tell you that hope is not a strategy, especially if applied to public policy, business strategy, and personal planning. And rightfully so: the dictionary defines strategy as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a
major or overall aim.”
As a practitioner and teacher of strategy, I could not agree more that, in this sense, hope is not a strategy. But does this mean hope is irrelevant to strategy and execution? I say hope is inextricably linked to a successful strategy execution.
In fact, in a Harvard Business Review article, writer Deborah Mills-Scofield saw “hope as one common denominator of success, when hope is directly tied to faith and trust in what has worked — and what can work again.”
She cited two examples where hope played a crucial role. The first is “a 163-year-old family-held manufacturing company, Menasha Packaging Corp., whose management bet their careers to radically reinvent the business model, the product mix and selling process.”
This company succeeded. “They had hope that their people would understand, embrace and achieve the new direction. Why? Because their people were dedicated, creative, loyal and tight-knit; they were treated as a part of the family; and because management had enough ‘evidence’ to hope that they could pull this off if they all pulled the same direction.”
The second is “a three-year-old beverage company, Runa, started by a bunch of kids out of college determined to become the next big thing in naturally focused energy tea-based beverages while lifting Ecuadorian farmers out of poverty — while educating their children and preserving the rain forest.”
Furthermore, “they hoped their passion for the farmers and tea, along with their advisors’ wisdom and the problem-solving learned through their education, would lead to success.”
“Three years later, they are expanding, increasingly doing well and significantly changing lives. While their initial hopes were based much more on the possible versus the probable, the equation is starting to even out.”
These examples testify to the powerful impact of hope as a guidepost in achieving a strategy, especially when communicated to employees, stakeholders, and the public. It conveys a sense of optimism, inspires people, and gathers support from stakeholders.
Hope, therefore, is proxy to a vision statement. In strategy parlance, a vision is a vivid mental image of what you want your organization to be at some point in the future, based on your goals and aspirations. Having a vision will give your organization a clear focus and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The difference is that hope touches the emotion, whereas vision appeals to the rational senses.
Consequently, hope and strategy complement to each other. The former tells the story of the one’s expectation and belief of the future; the latter outlines the set of actions on how to achieve this future.
But hope, in this sense, should not be based on fiction, but on reality. It should focus on what is working instead of what is broken, as well as recognize failures along the way and learning from them. Hope based on illusion will only make the learned frown and the gullible frustrated. Hope then goes hand-in-hand with sound strategy and detailed execution.
There is reason to hope in 2021 that, indeed, the coronavirus and the global economic crisis it caused will be curbed. It is now time for nations, organizations, and stakeholders to have concrete strategies and execution plans.
A prosperous and hopeful New Year to all!
The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.