Business Schools have taught us that Strategy trumps all. That is because in a Business School context, talking about Strategy fulfils the same basic need as unveiling unexpected plot twists does at the Detective Writers Convention: it is clever, intellectually satisfying and attracts attention. Nonetheless, I would contend that organisational leaders need to stop asking Talent and HR to hire against the Strategy.

The reason is simple. Like most things in western business, Strategy is a borrowed metaphor, and as is most often true, borrowed from the military. Any soldier can tell you that Strategy is important, but not the starting point. Mission is what we are here for, Strategy is the current comprehensive plan to achieve the Mission, and Tactics is how each unit will achieve its part of the Strategic plan, from day to day.

Unfortunately, at some point, someone (in a Business School, or possibly the Microsoft clip-art department) came up with a pyramid where Vision was the 25 year desire, Mission was what we are here to do - mostly a filler to ensure that there were the requisite three things in the pyramid - and Strategy was the broad base of the pyramid, upon which we would hereafter focus. Put the other two on a poster on the office wall, and Strategy is what we are all about.

In a Business, Strategy often has to change at very short notice - change of CEO, change in interest rates, exchange rates or tariffs, change in the economy, new market entrant, whatever. Mission - what the business is here for - doesn’t change, except on a multi-decade timescale. (Apologies to all those fast-pivoting startups, but after each pivot you are probably a different business in potentia, with a somewhat different mission; some day, if the funds hold out, you are going to have to lock and load and stand for something…)

And that is my simple point: if you keep hiring to the current Strategy, by the time the mandate is completed and the successful candidates are on-boarded, the Strategy has often moved on. (In case you think I am exaggerating, I know a number of people who have turned up on their first day of work to be told that their job has been restructured and now exists in a different country.) In many cases, of course, the new hires can be shoe-horned into something else which is only slightly a less good fit than the role as it was. And so we muddle along.

There is an alternative.

Know the Mission (which is not necessarily that poster on the wall). Hire, first and foremost, to the Mission. Find the people who can become the embodiment of your Mission, not to mention your Values and Culture. If they truly fit the Mission, and have whatever skills or experience you need them to have for today, they will almost certainly fit into any future Strategy you can propose in pursuit of that Mission. When the Strategy changes, they still fit, because the same Mission is being pursued, just by different means. If they have the passion for the Mission, they will acquire the skills and experience they need to keep pursuing it.

Or (if you prefer to stay with the military metaphor), the Colonel never finds himself saying “soldier, we hired you because we were going to invade the country from the West, unfortunately we are trying something a little different from next week and you no longer fit…”