SNw 009 If you do not have Time for Strategy, you do not have Time to Thrive Created by James on 6/13/2013 2:06:54 PM
Returning to the discussion of strategy started last year this issue examines a key paradox in business --
many executives find that they do not have time for strategic planning and thinking and since some define strategy as the right things for the business to thrive this raises a major challenge -- if you do not have time for strategy you do not have time to lead your organization to thrive
In the August 2006 issue of StratNews I discussed "Determining Strategy".
This followed newsletters on "Measuring Competitive Performance" and "Competitive Advantage -- The Next Ten Years".
This thread relates to the reality that the strategic planning that most organizations undertake is reported by various authorities on strategy as failing to make a material positive difference to the organization in 90% of cases. The series seeks to develop a case for formal and rigorous strategic analysis and design (strategic capability) that demonstrably produces the desired positive business outcomes.
Strategy -- The Essence of Organizational Existence
In 1990 I concluded that I could not define strategy in a single sentence.
In fact, notwithstanding the fact that I considered myself to be strategically competent, I found, in writing a white paper on the importance of aligning Information Technology with Strategy that I could not define the term strategy at all. I embarked on a journey to discover what strategy really is and how to determine it and execute it reliably and effectively. This article addresses some of the discoveries that I have made.
Since writing the article in 1990 I have found that most people, when asked to define strategy in one sentence, cannot do so and if they have a definition to offer there are widely disparate views.
I have also found that the descriptions of strategy given by international authorities differ considerably.
Accordingly, I have spent significant time over the last nearly two decades seeking to understand what strategy is, and what it is not, and to find a concise definition that is intuitively sound.
The conclusion that I have reached is that strategy is "the essence of why an organization exists and how it thrives".
It is my suggestion that all other definitions are, in fact, elaborations of this fundamental principle.
Strategy is "The Right Things" for the Business to Thrive
Professor Malcolm Macdonald over twenty years ago defined strategy as "doing the right things" and went on to propose that an organization that did the right things well would thrive.
If we couple this definition to that in the previous section, we see that strategy is the essence of what an organization does in order to thrive.
Too Busy for Strategy
Yet, many executives I meet say that they are "too busy" for strategic thinking, let alone strategic planning, let alone doing strategic things.
As they say this they seem oblivious to the irony of saying that they do not have time for the essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives.
Strategy is Discovered, NOT Invented
I have previously stated that strategy is discovered NOT invented.
Strategy is frequently an intuitive response to market forces and demands and is driven by the gut feel of those who are leading the organization.
This works well for a small organization, and may even work for a larger organization where the leadership team have been with the organization since it was small.
However, most medium to large organizations today have a degree of staff turnover and many actively go out and recruit executives from outside the organization. Many people are not able to intuit an essential concept that is not written down or even formally expressed and talked about and therefore proceed on the basis of their own assumptions.
In my experience, in many organizations, as one seeks to discover the strategic driver of the organization there is no concise, common expression of the strategy of the organization, let alone its individual component drivers.
As a consequence, change initiatives from different parts of the organization, and even corporately driven top down change, is unfocussed and not aligned on a single core objective or informed by a single common understanding.
This results in some parts of the organization getting in the way of other parts and, overall, serious strategic inefficiency -- the organization is at best surviving more than it is thriving.
Strategic Efficiency Results in Operational Efficiency
I have also observed that strategic efficiency results in operational efficiency but focus on operational efficiency at the expense of strategic efficiency seriously impedes the long term efficency and success of the organization.
Where a concise strategically appropriate course of action is identified and acted upon by a team of people who have a common understanding, things come together and flow. Where this is absent, people struggle to find the time to manage effectively and may increasingly find themselves fighting fires.
Strategic efficiency involves clearly defining the core strategy of the organization -- why it exists and how it thrives, understanding the drivers which propel it forward in proper context, setting goals aligned with these filters and developing and executing plans that work -- when this is done things fall into place and the huge collective corporate intellect of the organization is harnessed in harmony towards a clear objective and the organization thrives.
When this is not in place the organization will drift somewhere between what MacDonald defines as "survive" and "die fast".
As identified in the newsletter on "I.T. -- The Harshest Judge of Governance", an Information Technology project is the corporate endeavour most vulnerable to this phenomenon. 70% of I.T. projects fail outright, frequently for lack of strategic alignment. Such failures can seriously damage or even destroy a business. An I.T. project failure that results in loss of major customers is more expensive than most organizations can afford.
How Do You Find Time for Strategy?
This raises the question "How do YOU find time for Strategy?"
Some years ago, in response to my experience with a client that was transitioning rapidly from the "thrive" quadrant to what looked as if it could end up in "die fast" -- there were indications that it could lose one of its biggest clients -- I developed a list of factors that were required for executive availability, effectiveness and efficiency:
1. Empowerment: Subordinates at all levels motivated, empowered to act, supported in event of sincere mistakes, leadership by example, facilitation to achieve -- NOT domination, clear hierarchy and respect for hierarchy, teams NOT committees.
2. Strategic Capability: Effective strategic analysis, design and execution methods, standards, practices, etc.
3. Personal Assistants: Executives have equipped, motivated, trained, loyal, long term personal assistants.
4. Time Management: Effective time management tools, methods, training and practical day to day implementation -- NOT about computer based technology.
5. Document Management: Filing and document management standards consistently applied throughout the organization -- this is about standards, practices, training, etc and NOT about technology.
6. Value Creation: Executives focus their attention on activities which create sustainable value relative to customers, personnel, suppliers and shareholders.
7. Strategic Action: Executives equipped to think and act strategically and take effective strategic decisions on a continuous basis -- includes knowledge, method, systems, training, etc.
ALL these factors are vital for success in terms of executive availability, effectiveness and efficiency -- specifically so that executives are freed up to focus on items 6 and 7 which is where executive effectiveness is attained.
Developing these attributes in an organization will, over time, support organizational strategic capability and an organization which thrives sustainably.
The Time to Find the Time
However there is a snag -- how do you get the time to find the time to do these things?
A critical shift in focus is required -- identify the critical factors (concerns) that are consuming resources and hindering the organization -- the things that are consuming value -- not more than seven factors weighted and scored as discussed previously -- the things you want to do less of.
Identify the critical factors that generate value, not more than seven factors weighted and scored -- the things you want to do more of.
Determine the gaps and take concrete measures to close them.
As the organization focusses on the critical factors and aligns itself with those that create value and minimizes those that consume or destroy value it will, in time, create additional capacity by freeing up resources. Getting there will be a challenge that requires robust acceptance by management that a change is called for.
In particular, develop strategic capability and strategic governance -- care for the essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives.
The essence of what I am proposing is a mental shift of focus and emphasis, NOT a huge piece of time consuming work -- it WILL require ongoing work to shift the mind set and stay shifted and it may require coaching, mentoring or strategic advisory input over a year or more to bring about a fundamental shift in focus, but it can be done.
Conclusion -- If you do not have time for Strategy you do not have time to Thrive
To sum up:
Strategy is the essence of why an organization exists and how it thrives.
If you do not have time for strategy then you do not have time to enable the organization to thrive and, eventually if not corrected, the organization will probably die. The competitive environment today is fundamentally different to that which has existed at any time in recorded history.
Strategic focus is a mental position and attitude shift that requires conscious choice and focussed corporate effort over time to achieve.
The long term benefit of this change in position will be an organization that thrives and achieves its appropriate corporate objectives.
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