Two Assumptions in Strategic Development

Two Assumptions in Strategic Development

Innovation People began life, working with businesses both developing talent and talent management strategies across businesses. Here we reflect on two distinctive approaches to strategic development, whether related to talent development or to businesses more generally.



In this article, we’ll reflect on our understanding of two assumptions we observe people making as they form strategies.  On the one hand there’s what we call the Conquest Assumption represented in the red line in the graphic associated with this blog.  One the other hand there what we term the Relationship Assumption represented in the blue line in the graphic.

Two Assumptions in Strategic Development

Many readers will be familiar with the trajectory of the red line in the Conquest Assumption where the person for responsibility for developing a strategy, defines and hopefully clearly articulates an aim or ultimate goal often associated with a timeline and well laid out plan.  This approach fits with the conventions of strategic planning and strategic development many of us are used to.

Alongside the Conquest Assumption, we want to invite you to consider the Relationship Assumption.  With this approach the assumption is that different stages in strategic development are the product of effective relationships and in particular engagement with the specific operational context (and its people) in which it finds itself.

With both the Conquest Assumption and the Relationship Assumption, the business strategist has a clearly articulated aim, but the process for achieving that aim will be different.

Best Practise in Strategic Development

The best practises of those making the Conquest Assumption will without doubt emphasise skills in planning.  They will set out clear staged objectives and anticipated achievements.  This is great.  There’s no problem in our mind with adopting these really clear conventions of great planning.

The best practises of those making the Relationship Assumption will still (hopefully) involve great planning in seeking to achieve a specific aim.  However, the Relationship Assumption has at its core the understanding that strategic development is dependent on two specific skill sets and attributes that don’t necessarily feature in deploying the Conquest Assumption.

Developing Skills in Strategic Development

One skill set and attributes relates to what for us is a significant distinction between those of the planner and those of what we describe as the navigator.  We have written in more detail about the distinction between the planner and the navigator elsewhere so haven’t dwelt upon the two approaches here.  The other set of skills and attributes we will summarise in the following.  These relate to the strategist’s ability to be what we summarise as ‘context sensitive’.

Context is Everything

In promoting strategic development and decision-making in businesses, we love the phrase, ‘context is everything’.  It emphasises that increasingly, strategic development will the most effective when those developing strategies that take account of the needs, aspirations, interests, and concerns of people and the places they live and work and are committed to.

It may be the case that those reading this article consider, ‘What we know is best.’ or who think, ‘This or that method has always worked for us and others.’.  We understand this.  We understand the tried and tested, the conventional can be good.  Only right now, we’d invite you to question that.

We understand that in relatively stable and predictable contexts, then the Conquest Assumption might make sense.  Certainly, there has been an illustrious track record in its application.

However, what happens if the context in which we operate is unexpectedly uncertain, unstable and unpredictable but we still need to develop a strategy in an environment – a context – that is shifting and changing in ways we can’t anticipate.  How will you develop an effective strategy then?  Yes, the planning of the Conquest Assumption can be useful.  No-one is denying that.  But the really valuable skills will be in navigating change and development by means of the Relationship Assumption.  Advantage is created in developing two things, the skills of the navigator and the ability to build effective relationship, talent and development in their operational context.

Ignoring Context – An Example

I want to share an example of what I mean.  Recently I came across a mature organisation struggling to maintain its position in its operational context.  Influential stakeholders advocated developing a clear vision and strategy, which the organisation duly sought to establish.  They then began to think about implementation.  Without being clear about what that really meant.  They tried recruiting to implement their vision, even though they hadn’t considered its implementation in context.   They were just throwing investment at a challenge with the same effect as trying to build a strong tower on sinking sand.

The result was a muddle and missed opportunity.   The reason was in senior people with insufficiently sensitive to the different operational context in which they needed to operate.   They failed to take account of the variables that impacted on development in unpredictable ways.  In the end recruitment did not occur, and the process revealed an inherent tension between the idealist leaders with their assumption about conquest and the operational realities.

The lesson: we need to hold both assumptions in mind.  However, before we engage in any strategic development, we need to ensure proper engagement with the operational context in which development will be set, including a clear review of the variables that may be encountered.  Here I am not referring to a cursory nod to the obligatory SWOT Analysis, however that might be.

In taking account of the Relationship Assumption, we are advocating businesses learn skills in understanding and anticipating variables and assumptions and in building relationships particular to their operational context.  In particular, we are advocating that businesses take time to listen to and invest in the context in which they seek to develop, levering that development off the talent and potential where they operate.

An Invitation to Action

Innovation People is able to support businesses developing their talent and delivering their strategies through simple, accessible tools, resources and training.  Get in touch for more information through our strategic development produt at [email protected] or visit,

Written by Michael Croft

July 11, 2023