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Political manifestos? They’re strategies by any other name.

by Michelle Hall

This week, I’ve been thinking about strategies and what makes a great business strategy. My train of thought seems quite fitting, given that the UK’s major political parties have just launched their manifestos in the lead up to December’s general election. In its simplest terms, I guess a manifesto is just a strategy which – like any other – requires buy-in from those most affected by it if it is to have any hope of success! Perhaps the UK’s political leaders could do with some strategic consulting of their own.

Alongside my thoughts about the UK’s current political situation, I found myself having an in-depth discussion with a client about a strategy they were trying to implement without much success. My client’s team had been given their organisation’s ‘Digital First’ strategy so that they could start to “action it” (their words, not mine). This is both good and bad news. I’ll start with the good.

When I first started my career, strategies were documents which were written by a distinct group of people in the organisation. Generally, they were university graduates, often men, highly regarded by everyone in the company and seen as the smartest people in the room. The strategies they came up with were often discussed, but not in any granular detail. They were certainly not shared with the wider business. At best, department heads were told which of their objectives aligned to this strategy and then they determined (generally in a closed room with the strategy folk) what they were going to do to achieve these. For the client I have been speaking to this week, the good news is that their organisation already has the belief in the capabilities of its people to share the strategy far and wide, rather than taking an insular approach.

When I first started my career, strategies were documents which were written by a distinct group of people in the organisation.

Now for the bad news. The strategy document in question was over fifty A4 pages long. A hefty read. Though, for the record, this is not the longest I’ve ever heard of! On top of this, the document didn’t provide much direction or indicate what outcomes the business is working towards. My client’s team were no wiser as to what the organisation wanted or what they should be doing, even after reading it for the second time.

So, what does this have to do with the manifesto of a political party? Well, a manifesto is (or at least should be) a strategy which sets out the party’s policy platforms. Don’t worry, this blog is not going to take a sharp turn and start critiquing the content of the manifestos – our Marketing Manager has given me a word limit and I’m not a political commentator!

But here’s why manifestos don’t work for me as successful strategy documents.

1. They’re just too long

One party manifesto I came across this year was 107 pages long. It does contain photographs and the print is large, but it’s still one hundred and seven pages long. When I searched for a second party’s manifesto, it took me far too long to find the downloadable version. This one was slimmer – at 64 pages – and had an accompanying costings document; at least there’s some visibility of where the money is coming from and going to in this strategy.

If I had read both manifestos cover-to-cover (to be clear, I haven’t done this), it would undoubtedly have taken up a considerable amount of my time.

2. They’re not accessible for their audience

One of the two parties has broken their manifesto up into bite-size pieces on their website – all well and good if I’m happy reading online, but a poor user experience if I have eye-sight problems, if I’m unable to afford anything more than a very basic mobile phone, or if I just don’t know how to use a laptop or mobile device. In which case, I guess I’d be reliant on the print and broadcast media and would need to wade through their intended (or unintended) bias.

3. There’s no roadmap

After skimming through the two manifesto documents, I’m still at a bit of a loss as to how all their activities are going to be delivered, as well as who will deliver them and when.

Both make a lot of big promises; if I wasn’t already confused about who to vote for, I definitely am now.

As I said, I don’t want to comment on the contents of the manifestos here, so, what’s my point? It’s simple – when you write a strategy, you need to know your audience. You also want to be realistic with the commitments you make in your strategy, or no one is going to believe them. Then, you should provide the roadmap of when all these activities are going to happen, and who is going to be involved, to ensure you’ve answered most people’s questions before they even arise. Finally, a great strategy should be user-friendly and truly engage readers to want to come on this strategy journey with you.

Whether it’s a political manifesto or a business strategy document you’re creating, there’s three key steps to take. To find out what these are, have a read of my blog post on the three steps to creating a great business strategy.

Image credits: Shutterstock, Artist - M-SUR

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