It is noteworthy how we have a tendency to take up the habits of the salesperson when we are looking to impress – “over-technicalising” being the clumsy term salespeople often use to cover the desire to drown us in technical terminology hoping we will become embarrassed by our, seeming, ignorance and not hammer home those pertinent questions on value-for-money.
The same is true of managers, or those masquerading as managers.
How frequently have you heard people talk of strategy and yet you are not convinced they fully understand what strategy entails?
Or add in the need for, say, a strategic development policy. Stop, think, surely policy or strategy is a redundant word in this phrase?
Save us from a jargon without adding value to the meaning of the words: A development strategy, development policy or even the strategy to implement the development policy but not strategic policy?
In today’s environment we are in danger of being superficial, in a strange way, by becoming ever more specialised within narrowly defined core areas of work, using words, terms and phrases without defining what they mean for us and those we seek to communicate with; missing having the basics right in order to allow the technical elements to be fully developed.
A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body
To take a sports analogy – all movement starts from the core muscles, those muscles in and around the base of the spine through the midriff, only then will movement radiate out to the limbs. Nice biceps are great for posing on the beach but for doing the hard work of competition overall conditioning is required. In the same way, a great HR department is something to behold but if the people recruited lack direction the performance of the organisation will never reach its full potential.
Going with the anatomical flow. The spine of an organisation is the path from mission and vision to execution – through the spine run the nervous system allowing the brain to deliver the message for the feet to walk the walk. And the reverse route is true for the feet to pass the message back; they need some extra support, say a bit of balance from the arms, if they are to deliver the required mobilisation.
Vision, articulation, doing. The body has systems allowing the messages to be sent and received. In today’s World, a great deal is made of communication, the central nervous system, but what of the backbone? The strategy can be equated to the spine and if it is weak? We all know someone suffering from back pain with all the commensurate worries. The strategic process (See the diagram below) can be seen as a quality-training programme to be followed benefiting the overall body, the overall organisation. Yet, procedures are nothing without the people to make them work and the management to ensure the people and procedures are in harmony.
Mission, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics
Internal analysis External analysis
With the feedback loops appearing to ensure lessons are incorporated systematically over time
If this analogy is to be taken further, the core muscles must equate to middle management where knowledge is stored in terms of technical competences, the ability to add value to the data on company performance and a key link to cause any strategy to be executed.
Specialist hiding in Specialism
We have seen the various merits and cases made for this or that speciality being kingpin in how an organisation develops but, not surprisingly, the question is how the managers of all the specialities come together in order to cause any movement to happen in the first place. The parts functioning in accordance to messages sent through the system to create collaborative, coherent – managed – movement toward the organisation’s goal. Coordination only then follows – do not be fooled by endless coordination meetings when there is no management and or coherence; only then follows harmonious working together.
In Mintzberg’s work The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning he quoted a saying – life is larger than our categories. Are we now guilty of hiring specifics and hoping (rather than knowing) we can get them to contribute beyond their specific technical skills? Does the organisation have the inherent skills to draw the best from the person to build further competitive advantage beyond the key success factors available to all within the market? Or has your organisation taken the decision to contract out functions to focus in on specific activities? If so, then, obviously, skills required change and the manner of communicating objectives takes on a very different complexion. Where is the information originating allowing development of the strategy? Do the suppliers have a say in your strategy development for example? Are we all sharing a common understanding of the words and phrases being used to describe something?
Are we now working in an environment where we are executing for the here and now and starting to lose sight of the longer term? Within this, is it seen by the teams in production, logistics and marketing to manage their functions day-by-day believing the vision, the creativity, is coming from elsewhere?
“I am too busy making sure my discipline works to do anything else” may well be a refrain amongst a number of your colleagues (contributing to the thinking that contracting out a function is a viable option).
The strategic issues remain however, where is your knowledge base? Does the organisation have the skills to draw the best from people above and beyond delivery of a functional element (otherwise why not simply contract out and seek synergy elsewhere)?
The tailoring of management education to greater specifics obviously has pluses and minuses but what does a well-trained technical person (Or, for this matter, a supplier of specific functions) add to your organisation? If the overall structure of the company is strong, the person slots in – but what of adding value beyond just slotting in to a function? What are the consequences in terms of ability to think outside the discipline, outside the box, for elements of creativity, adding to the knowledge available for the business to utilise? Are we making short-term efficiency the complete goal at the cost of effectiveness with regard to finding innovative ways of reaching the market as it evolves? Noting Mintzberg’s points: Are we repeating, in a different fashion, the mistakes synonymous with strategic planning versus strategic thinking?
The Way Forward
The future has to be characterised by a degree of uncertainty and continual flux requiring further degrees of innovation and thinking beyond the conservative to grant a business competitive advantage – we can all do the conservative, this is taught at business school. With different, particularly emergent, volatile, economies growing at unprecedented rates a cloak is being thrown around the flabbiness of individual companies – are you in a position to challenge as the competition becomes ever fiercer with the entry of lithe competitors into your markets? Is it time to follow the lead being set in terms of projecting how your organisation not only sells the strategy given to it from, say, a parent organisation but starts to work through how this strategy really fits to the markets you are operating in. How it utilises the skills, knowledge and experience you have available to your organisation.
So what is to be done within the organisation? Follow the process and add value has to be the basic answer.
Knowledge is the crucial element, how to draw the tacit knowledge from your key team members and, thence, use this knowledge to build and implement the strategy granting you competitive edge over others in the market. There are any number of contributing tools and techniques allowing the development of specifics, but, returning to the sports analogy; if the basics are not right then no amount of extras will improve the functioning of the overall body. Sending the right messages out has to be the crucial element, listening to the pulses coming back through the networks allows tailoring of the approach. Making sure the spine (strategy) is strong, the core muscles (the middle management) are well toned and working together ensuring the limbs have you moving with style in a purposeful manner toward the objectives set through quality strategic thinking.