All forward-thinking leaders are interested in strategy.  But what, exactly, is the purpose of strategy?

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap. 

Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us, and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.

Learn from Other People’s Coaching

This is the first podcast out for 2022 so for new-release listeners, happy new year!

This year I’m getting far more focussed and intentional to bring you insights from the coaching work I do with health and safety professionals, and I’ll tell you why that’s like gold: it’s bloody lonely doing our work.  It doesn’t matter whether you are the frontline safety supervisor or the head of safety, I have been gobsmacked to see this theme emerge from our work – we feel alone, often unsupported like we don’t have others on our side, and certainly, we rarely have people to talk with who understand. 

My gift to you is to bring you insights from the coaching work I do in the hope that it does two things: first, that you feel less alone – and surprised at how many people think and feel the same things as you.  And second, you can benefit from the common threads across my work even if we don’t ever get to work together. 

So let’s begin with one of the most common topics for health and safety leaders: strategy. 

What is the Purpose of Strategy?

This will be the first of a series of podcasts that will revolve around a core theme, they might not be sequential, but over the year my plan is to create a kind of playlist based on various themes. 

What is the purpose of strategy?

Whenever a question about strategy comes up in coaching, like ‘I am reviewing my strategy and want help’ or ‘we don’t have a strategy and I think we need one or ‘my strategy has gone out the window with covid’, I begin by exploring what is the purpose of strategy?

This isn’t a trick question like I’m testing them to see if they have the right answer and if not I swoop in with my shiny response.  Not at all. 

The reason for asking ‘what is the purpose of strategy’ is because the answer is context-dependent – it pays to understand what and how strategy plays a part inside your organisation. 

(By the way, I use the word strategy but in some organisations, especially government, there are other labels for the same thing). 

So my clarifying questions sound a bit like this:

 – what is the purpose of your overall organisational strategy?

 – what are you trying to achieve with your specific strategy?

 – what evidence or outcomes do you see, which for either the organisational strategy or sub-function strategies, give you an indication of the purpose of these strategies?

One person says ‘I think I need a strategy because we aren’t super strategic right now.  Another says ‘Our strategy just exists on paper, so it needs to change to come to life.  Or ‘I can’t get much done in this organisation so a strategy could help me be more effective. 

You see how the answers can differ wildly? So let’s pause for a moment, right now, in your context, what do you see as the purpose of strategy?

This is not just for the senior health and safety people either.  Whatever place you occupy within your safety team or function, as a leader you will have some interface with the strategy, whether that’s directly in review or evaluation or reporting on it, or at least knowing how your work fits the bigger picture’. 

One of the criticisms of coaching is that it never gives you an answer, only questions, and reflection to dig deeper.  I’m not a purist in that respect, the way I coach is open and divergent much of the time, but on some critical things, we need to get to the pointy end. 

And this question, what is the purpose of strategy? ABSOLUTELY has a pointy end I’ve distilled from lots of these coaching conversations. 

What is the Purpose of Anything?

Quick detour so we can bring this one home together – what’s the purpose of a risk assessment? Identify risks, determine control measures, and make sure you know which parts are most important, right?

What’s the purpose of an investigation? To learn, and improve?

What’s the purpose of a safety management system? I don’t even think I have a good answer to that one. 

Something’s purpose must be both valuable, and tangible.  I can see a change, it was made because of the thing, and that’s worth investing resources to get that change. 

Strategy is the same. 

The Actual Purpose of Strategy

Strategy, in my experience, only has two key purposes:

First, to shape a story about what is important for the people who need to know that stuff. 

Shape a story about what is important. 

Second, to attract the resources necessary to make the future better, specifically with the things we say are important. 

That’s it. 

A narrative, and a tool for getting resources. 

Yes, strategy has a lot of detail.  Yes, strategy needs plans and actions.  Yes, a strategy should integrate into the organisational strategy. 

All of those things are subordinate, and in most cases nested within, my two purposes of strategy: to shape a story about what is important, and to attract resources to make change. 

Which makes the next step, really straightforward. 

Check it for yourself

How can we know if our strategy is doing its job, is fulfilling its purpose?

The way I do it is to ask around, to talk with the safety team, with management (especially executives), and with HSR’s, and get a sense of whether the language and the important stuff in the strategy is coming out of their mouth.  That’s the first bit.  Next, I can count the resources which were directly attracted (or at least retained) for the strategy.  This stuff gets counted in lots of different ways, it will always include dollars, could be headcount, maybe projects might be hours, or even tangible things like assets, information, or data. 

I can evaluate these two aspects of strategy rather easily, and so can you too. 

Strategy is there to help you tell the story about what’s important and to attract the resources necessary to make change happen in those important areas. 

How’s your strategy stack up against its purpose?

Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective, or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!

You’ve probably heard me talk about learning teams, and might be wondering what’s that all about. Learning teams are an increasingly popular practical activity to help your organisation to learn better, in order to improve performance.

It’s not an investigation, it’s not a risk assessment, and it’s not a committee meeting – but a learning team approach can help to learn from the past, to anticipate the future, and to engage effectively with people all over your organisation or supply chain.

There’s not one way to do learning teams but some critical principles which will enable you to facilitate better learning whatever your situation.

I’ve created a few short videos which explain What is a learning team? If you’re interested visit

Here’s your FREE reflection worksheet from this episode.

And here’s your FREE download of the full transcript of this episode.

Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!