Strategy is sometimes about taking risks; these can be spread if you share the burden of their creation with your organisation...
Men in Black The author argues that firm strategy should come from several sources; sadly this is often not the case. In many corporate headquarters, it seems to be the prerogative of a few chosen few, who largely remain anonymous to large parts of the organisation: almost a “men in black” syndrome.
Strategy as a word or definition comes from a rich language background of Greek/Latin and French and means in general terms the art of making war. According to the Oxford Dictionary its origins come from the late 15th century (originally denoting a military ploy): from French stratagème, via Latin from Greek stratēgēma, from stratēgein 'be a general', from stratēgos, from stratos 'army' + agein 'to lead'.
The analogy war is not wholly wrong when taking about how to go about things. It seems that wars are fought (partially at least) on the ability to get information; the better informed you are the less risk that is involved in your next move or indeed as a leader you may want to take an even greater risk as the information you have leads you to believe you will be successful. The analogy can be equally apply to firms – information i.e. market intelligence et al will help to inform you of what the next best course of action to take.
Anyone who talks strategy will mention that it is about taking risks, forging ahead when there are still a lot of unknowns. It’s about being daring in an uncertain environment.
So back to our HQ function above… who tend to remain largely anonymous to the internal organisation. One would think that information gathering and market intelligence would both include getting “out there” to gather information and it would also include looking inwardly as there is arguably a vast amount of resources who are well informed about the market and the potential that exists… however, invariably this doesn’t happen. The fingers of the corporate strategy only reach down to the upper management echelons it seems.
The outward look is very common: industry trends, customer input, looking at what the competitors are doing, legislation demands and trends etc. There is more to list and it is extensive. And there is certainly nothing wrong with the above. It certainly is a market-based view (MBV) of how to go about things.
However, what about at home in the organization? What do the people who have daily contact with customers, with the distribution network, who live and breathe and feel the products, services and the way of working think? If anyone “knows” what works and what doesn’t; what may be a good idea and what definitely isn’t (a good idea); it is not these types of resources? You do not necessarily need to be a senior manager to have this type of insight.
The author argues that the art of strategizing must/should/could involve checking, reconfirming, involving the organisation lower down and using it as a sounding board to at least partially make sure that “everyone” is reasonably on-board with the new direction? Additionally, it means on taking on ideas and concepts not originating from “above”. Using your resource base to drive things forward i.e. this can be seen as a resource based view (RBV) way of working.
Strategy work can be driven in many different forms: sometimes it is the CEO who just thinks “we need to this” to the output from the Strategy Organisation, both which are valid sources. However, the emergent strategies from lower down in the organisation are just as equally important if not more.
Dear reader just think if the employees are involved in formulating parts of the strategy, if their input could be captured and used it would give a sense of pride and purpose to the organisation, a new level of commitment and employee involvement. It is also a rich treasure trove of ideas, of a place to get feedback on the “good” the “bad” and the “ugly” to coin a famous western film. It is not easy however; it is not (always) feasible to involve “everyone” and digging lower down demands more time and energy. Of course, some strategies and ideas are sensitive and shouldn’t be spread around the organisation.
There is therefore no one size fits all model or way of working – different organisations will have to find their own way of approaching “capturing valued input and feedback” from lower down in the organisation. It demands openness and transparency, a good listening ear, empathy, taking on ideas from somewhere else (no room for the “not invented here syndrome").
Working in this manner will require a different culture and management style to effect it. The Strategy organisation in larger organisations will have to start mingling and getting noticed amongst the rest of us; the men in black will have to remove their sunglasses :)
We at SMQC are interested in hearing reader’s different opinions on the subject. If you have any questions with reference to the above please feel free to post a comment or to contact us at http://www.smqc.eu by using the contact formula.