Strategic management


Strategic management

Strategic management is a field that deals with the major intended and emergent initiatives taken by general managers on behalf of owners, involving utilization of resources, to enhance the performance of firms in their external environments.[1] It entails specifying the organization's mission, vision and objectives, developing policies and plans, often in terms of projects and programs, which are designed to achieve these objectives, and then allocating resources to implement the policies and plans, projects and programs. A balanced scorecard is often used to evaluate the overall performance of the business and its progress towards objectives. Recent studies and leading management theorists have advocated that strategy needs to start with stakeholders expectations and use a modified balanced scorecard which includes all stakeholders.

Strategic management is a level of managerial activity under setting goals and over Tactics. Strategic management provides overall direction to the enterprise and is closely related to the field of Organization Studies. In the field of business administration it is useful to talk about "strategic alignment" between the organization and its environment or "strategic consistency." According to Arieu (2007), "there is strategic consistency when the actions of an organization are consistent with the expectations of management, and these in turn are with the market and the context." Strategic management includes not only the management team but can also include the Board of Directors and other stakeholders of the organization. It depends on the organizational structure.

“Strategic management is an ongoing process that evaluates and controls the business and the industries in which the company is involved; assesses its competitors and sets goals and strategies to meet all existing and potential competitors; and then reassesses each strategy annually or quarterly [i.e. regularly] to determine how it has been implemented and whether it has succeeded or needs replacement by a new strategy to meet changed circumstances, new technology, new competitors, a new economic environment., or a new social, financial, or political environment.” (Lamb, 1984:ix)[2]

Contents

Concepts/approaches of strategic management

The specific approach to strategic management can depend upon the size of an organization, and the proclivity to change of its business environment. These points are highlighted below:

  • as A global/transnational organization may employ a more structured strategic management model, due to its size, scope of operations, and need to encompass stakeholder views and requirements.
  • An SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) may employ an entrepreneurial approach. This is due to its comparatively smaller size and scope of operations, as well as possessing fewer resources. An SME's CEO (or general top management) may simply outline a mission, and pursue all activities under that mission.

Strategy formation

The initial task in strategic management is typically the compilation and dissemination of a mission statement. This document outlines, in essence, the raison d'etre of an organization. Additionally, it specifies the scope of activities an organization wishes to undertake, coupled with the markets a firm wishes to serve.

Following the devising of a mission statement, a firm would then undertake an environmental scanning within the purview of the statement.

Strategic formation is a combination of three main processes which are as follows:

  • Performing a situation analysis, self-evaluation and competitor analysis: both internal and external; both micro-environmental and macro-environmental.
  • Concurrent with this assessment, objectives are set. These objectives should be parallel to a time-line; some are in the short-term and others on the long-term. This involves crafting vision statements (long term view of a possible future), mission statements (the role that the organization gives itself in society), overall corporate objectives (both financial and strategic), strategic business unit objectives (both financial and strategic), and tactical objectives.

Strategy evaluation and choice

An environmental scan will highlight all pertinent aspects that affects an organization, whether external or sector/industry-based. Such an occurrence will also uncover areas to capitalise on, in addition to areas in which expansion may be unwise.

These options, once identified, have to be vetted and screened by an organization. In addition to ascertaining the suitability, feasibility and acceptability of an option, the actual modes of progress have to be determined. These pertain to:

The basis of competition

The basis of competition relates to how an organization will produce its product offerings, together with the basis as to how it will act within a market structure, and relative to its competitors. Some of these options encompass:

  • A differentiation approach, in which a multitude of market segments are served on a mass scale. An example will include the array of products produced by Unilever, or Procter and Gamble, as both forge many of the world's noted consumer brands serving a variety of market segments.
  • A cost-based approach, which often concerns economy pricing. An example would be dollar stores in the United States.
  • A focus (or niche) approach. In this paradigm, an organization would produce items for a niche market, as opposed to a mass market. An example is Aston Martin cars.

Mode of action

  • Measuring the effectiveness of the organizational strategy, it's extremely important to conduct a SWOT analysis to figure out the internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats of the entity in business. This may require taking certain precautionary measures or even changing the entire strategy.

In corporate strategy, Johnson, Scholes and Whittington present a model in which strategic options are evaluated against three key success criteria:[3]

  • Suitability; would it work?
  • Feasibility; can it be made to work?
  • Acceptability; will they work it?

Suitability

Suitability deals with the overall rationale of the strategy. The key point to consider is whether the strategy would address the key strategic issues underlined by the organisation's strategic position.

  • Does it make economic sense?
  • Would the organization obtain economies of scale or economies of scope?
  • Would it be suitable in terms of environment and capabilities?

Tools that can be used to evaluate suitability include:

Feasibility

Feasibility is concerned with whether the resources required to implement the strategy are available, can be developed or obtained. Resources include funding, people, time, and information.

Tools that can be used to evaluate feasibility include:

Acceptability

Acceptability is concerned with the expectations of the identified stakeholders (mainly shareholders, employees and customers) with the expected performance outcomes, which can be return, risk and stakeholder reactions.

  • Return deals with the benefits expected by the stakeholders (financial and non-financial). For example, shareholders would expect the increase of their wealth, employees would expect improvement in their careers and customers would expect better value for money.
  • Risk deals with the probability and consequences of failure of a strategy (financial and non-financial).
  • Stakeholder reactions deals with anticipating the likely reaction of stakeholders. Shareholders could oppose the issuing of new shares, employees and unions could oppose outsourcing for fear of losing their jobs, customers could have concerns over a merger with regards to quality and support.

Tools that can be used to evaluate acceptability include:

The direction of action

Strategic options may span a number of options, including:

  • Growth-based (inspired by Igor Ansoff's matrix – market development, product development, market penetration, diversification)
  • Consolidation
  • Divestment
  • Harvesting

The exact option depends on the given resources of the firm, in addition to the nature of products' performance in given industries. A generally well-performing organisation may seek to harvest (,i.e. let a product die a natural death in the market) a product, if via portfolio analysis it was performing poorly comparative to others in the market.

Additionally, the exact means of implementing a strategy needs to be considered. These points range from:

  • Strategic alliances
  • CAPEX
  • Internal development (,i.e. utilising one's own strategic capability in a given course of action)
  • M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions)

The chosen option in this context is dependent on the strategic capabilities of a firm. A company may opt for an acquisition (actually buying and absorbing a smaller firm), if it meant speedy entry into a market or lack of time in internal development. A strategic alliance (such as a network, consortium or joint venture) can leverage on mutual skills between companies. Some countries, such as India and China, specifically state that FDI in their countries should be executed via a strategic alliance arrangement.

Strategic implementation and control

Once a strategy has been identified, it must then be put into practice. This may involve organising, resourcing and utilising change management procedures:

Organizing

Organizing relates to how an organizational design of a company can fit with a chosen strategy. This concerns the nature of reporting relationships, spans of control, and any strategic business units (SBUs) that require to be formed. Typically, an SBU will be created (which often has some degree of autonomous decision-making) if it exists in a market with unique conditions, or has/requires unique strategic capabilities (,i.e. the skills needed for the running and competition of the SBU are different).

Resourcing

Resourcing is literally the resources required to put the strategy into practice, ranging from human resources, to capital equipment, and to ICT-based implements.

Change management

In the process of implementing strategic plans, an organization must be wary of forces that may legitimately seek to obstruct such changes. It is important then that effectual change management practices are instituted. These encompass:

  • The appointment of a change agent, as an individual who would champion the changes and seek to reassure and allay any fears arising.
  • Ascertaining the causes of the resistance to organizational change (whether from employees, perceived loss of job security, etc.)
  • Via change agency, slowly limiting the negative effects that a change may uncover.

General approaches

In general terms, there are two main approaches, which are opposite but complement each other in some ways, to strategic management:

  • The Industrial Organizational Approach
    • based on economic theory — deals with issues like competitive rivalry, resource allocation, economies of scale
    • assumptions — rationality, self discipline behaviour, profit maximization
  • The Sociological Approach
    • deals primarily with human interactions
    • assumptions — bounded rationality, satisficing behaviour, profit sub-optimality. An example of a company that currently operates this way is Google. The stakeholder focused approach is an example of this modern approach to strategy.

Strategic management techniques can be viewed as bottom-up, top-down, or collaborative processes. In the bottom-up approach, employees submit proposals to their managers who, in turn, funnel the best ideas further up the organization. This is often accomplished by a capital budgeting process. Proposals are assessed using financial criteria such as return on investment or cost-benefit analysis. Cost underestimation and benefit overestimation are major sources of error. The proposals that are approved form the substance of a new strategy, all of which is done without a grand strategic design or a strategic architect. The top-down approach is the most common by far. In it, the CEO, possibly with the assistance of a strategic planning team, decides on the overall direction the company should take. Some organizations are starting to experiment with collaborative strategic planning techniques that recognize the emergent nature of strategic decisions.

Strategic decisions should focus on Outcome, Time remaining, and current Value/priority. The outcome comprises both the desired ending goal and the plan designed to reach that goal. Managing strategically requires paying attention to the time remaining to reach a particular level or goal and adjusting the pace and options accordingly. Value/priority relates to the shifting, relative concept of value-add. Strategic decisions should be based on the understanding that the value-add of whatever you are managing is a constantly changing reference point. An objective that begins with a high level of value-add may change due to influence of internal and external factors. Strategic management by definition, is managing with a heads-up approach to outcome, time and relative value, and actively making course corrections as needed.

Simulation strategies are also used by managers in an industry. The purpose of simulation gaming is to prepare managers make well rounded decisions. There are two main focuses of the different simulation games, generalized games and functional games. Generalized games are those that are designed to provide participants with new forms of how to adapt to an unfamiliar environment and make business decisions when in doubt. On the other hand, functional games are designed to make participants more aware of being able to deal with situations that bring about one or more problems that are encountered in a corporate function within an industry.[4]

The strategy hierarchy

In most (large) corporations there are several levels of management. Corporate strategy is the highest of these levels in the sense that it is the broadest – applying to all parts of the firm – while also incorporating the longest time horizon. It gives direction to corporate values, corporate culture, corporate goals, and corporate missions. Under this broad corporate strategy there are typically business-level competitive strategies and functional unit strategies.

Corporate strategy refers to the overarching strategy of the diversified firm. Such a corporate strategy answers the questions of "which businesses should we be in?" and "how does being in these businesses create synergy and/or add to the competitive advantage of the corporation as a whole?" Business strategy refers to the aggregated strategies of single business firm or a strategic business unit (SBU) in a diversified corporation. According to Michael Porter, a firm must formulate a business strategy that incorporates either cost leadership, differentiation, or focus to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage and long-term success. Alternatively, according to W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, an organization can achieve high growth and profits by creating a Blue Ocean Strategy that breaks the previous value-cost trade off by simultaneously pursuing both differentiation and low cost.

Functional strategies include marketing strategies, new product development strategies, human resource strategies, financial strategies, legal strategies, supply-chain strategies, and information technology management strategies. The emphasis is on short and medium term plans and is limited to the domain of each department’s functional responsibility. Each functional department attempts to do its part in meeting overall corporate objectives, and hence to some extent their strategies are derived from broader corporate strategies.

Many companies feel that a functional organizational structure is not an efficient way to organize activities so they have reengineered according to processes or SBUs. A strategic business unit is a semi-autonomous unit that is usually responsible for its own budgeting, new product decisions, hiring decisions, and price setting. An SBU is treated as an internal profit centre by corporate headquarters. A technology strategy, for example, although it is focused on technology as a means of achieving an organization's overall objective(s), may include dimensions that are beyond the scope of a single business unit, engineering organization or IT department.

An additional level of strategy called operational strategy was encouraged by Peter Drucker in his theory of management by objectives (MBO). It is very narrow in focus and deals with day-to-day operational activities such as scheduling criteria. It must operate within a budget but is not at liberty to adjust or create that budget. Operational level strategies are informed by business level strategies which, in turn, are informed by corporate level strategies.

Since the turn of the millennium, some firms have reverted to a simpler strategic structure driven by advances in information technology. It is felt that knowledge management systems should be used to share information and create common goals. Strategic divisions are thought to hamper this process. This notion of strategy has been captured under the rubric of dynamic strategy, popularized by Carpenter and Sanders's textbook [1]. This work builds on that of Brown and Eisenhart as well as Christensen and portrays firm strategy, both business and corporate, as necessarily embracing ongoing strategic change, and the seamless integration of strategy formulation and implementation. Such change and implementation are usually built into the strategy through the staging and pacing facets.

Historical development of strategic management

Birth of strategic management

Strategic management as a discipline originated in the 1950s and 60s. Although there were numerous early contributors to the literature, the most influential pioneers were Alfred D. Chandler, Philip Selznick, Igor Ansoff, and Peter Drucker.

Alfred Chandler recognized the importance of coordinating the various aspects of management under one all-encompassing strategy. Prior to this time the various functions of management were separate with little overall coordination or strategy. Interactions between functions or between departments were typically handled by a boundary position, that is, there were one or two managers that relayed information back and forth between two departments. Chandler also stressed the importance of taking a long term perspective when looking to the future. In his 1962 groundbreaking work Strategy and Structure, Chandler showed that a long-term coordinated strategy was necessary to give a company structure, direction, and focus. He says it concisely, “structure follows strategy.”[5]

In 1957, Philip Selznick introduced the idea of matching the organization's internal factors with external environmental circumstances.[6] This core idea was developed into what we now call SWOT analysis by Learned, Andrews, and others at the Harvard Business School General Management Group. Strengths and weaknesses of the firm are assessed in light of the opportunities and threats from the business environment.

Igor Ansoff built on Chandler's work by adding a range of strategic concepts and inventing a whole new vocabulary. He developed a strategy grid that compared market penetration strategies, product development strategies, market development strategies and horizontal and vertical integration and diversification strategies. He felt that management could use these strategies to systematically prepare for future opportunities and challenges. In his 1965 classic Corporate Strategy, he developed the gap analysis still used today in which we must understand the gap between where we are currently and where we would like to be, then develop what he called “gap reducing actions”.[7]

Peter Drucker was a prolific strategy theorist, author of dozens of management books, with a career spanning five decades. His contributions to strategic management were many but two are most important. Firstly, he stressed the importance of objectives. An organization without clear objectives is like a ship without a rudder. As early as 1954 he was developing a theory of management based on objectives.[8] This evolved into his theory of management by objectives (MBO). According to Drucker, the procedure of setting objectives and monitoring your progress towards them should permeate the entire organization, top to bottom. His other seminal contribution was in predicting the importance of what today we would call intellectual capital. He predicted the rise of what he called the “knowledge worker” and explained the consequences of this for management. He said that knowledge work is non-hierarchical. Work would be carried out in teams with the person most knowledgeable in the task at hand being the temporary leader.

In 1985, Ellen-Earle Chaffee summarized what she thought were the main elements of strategic management theory by the 1970s:[9]

  • Strategic management involves adapting the organization to its business environment.
  • Strategic management is fluid and complex. Change creates novel combinations of circumstances requiring unstructured non-repetitive responses.
  • Strategic management affects the entire organization by providing direction.
  • Strategic management involves both strategy formation (she called it content) and also strategy implementation (she called it process).
  • Strategic management is partially planned and partially unplanned.
  • Strategic management is done at several levels: overall corporate strategy, and individual business strategies.
  • Strategic management involves both conceptual and analytical thought processes.

Growth and portfolio theory

In the 1970s much of strategic management dealt with size, growth, and portfolio theory. The PIMS study was a long term study, started in the 1960s and lasted for 19 years, that attempted to understand the Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies (PIMS), particularly the effect of market share. Started at General Electric, moved to Harvard in the early 1970s, and then moved to the Strategic Planning Institute in the late 1970s, it now contains decades of information on the relationship between profitability and strategy. Their initial conclusion was unambiguous: The greater a company's market share, the greater will be their rate of profit. The high market share provides volume and economies of scale. It also provides experience and learning curve advantages. The combined effect is increased profits.[10] The studies conclusions continue to be drawn on by academics and companies today: "PIMS provides compelling quantitative evidence as to which business strategies work and don't work" – Tom Peters.

The benefits of high market share naturally lead to an interest in growth strategies. The relative advantages of horizontal integration, vertical integration, diversification, franchises, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and organic growth were discussed. The most appropriate market dominance strategies were assessed given the competitive and regulatory environment.

There was also research that indicated that a low market share strategy could also be very profitable. Schumacher (1973),[11] Woo and Cooper (1982),[12] Levenson (1984),[13] and later Traverso (2002)[14] showed how smaller niche players obtained very high returns.

By the early 1980s the paradoxical conclusion was that high market share and low market share companies were often very profitable but most of the companies in between were not. This was sometimes called the “hole in the middle” problem. This anomaly would be explained by Michael Porter in the 1980s.

The management of diversified organizations required new techniques and new ways of thinking. The first CEO to address the problem of a multi-divisional company was Alfred Sloan at General Motors. GM was decentralized into semi-autonomous “strategic business units” (SBU's), but with centralized support functions.

One of the most valuable concepts in the strategic management of multi-divisional companies was portfolio theory. In the previous decade Harry Markowitz and other financial theorists developed the theory of portfolio analysis. It was concluded that a broad portfolio of financial assets could reduce specific risk. In the 1970s marketers extended the theory to product portfolio decisions and managerial strategists extended it to operating division portfolios. Each of a company’s operating divisions were seen as an element in the corporate portfolio. Each operating division (also called strategic business units) was treated as a semi-independent profit center with its own revenues, costs, objectives, and strategies. Several techniques were developed to analyze the relationships between elements in a portfolio. B.C.G. Analysis, for example, was developed by the Boston Consulting Group in the early 1970s. This was the theory that gave us the wonderful image of a CEO sitting on a stool milking a cash cow. Shortly after that the G.E. multi factoral model was developed by General Electric. Companies continued to diversify until the 1980s when it was realized that in many cases a portfolio of operating divisions was worth more as separate completely independent companies.

The marketing revolution

The 1970s also saw the rise of the marketing oriented firm. From the beginnings of capitalism it was assumed that the key requirement of business success was a product of high technical quality. If you produced a product that worked well and was durable, it was assumed you would have no difficulty selling them at a profit. This was called the production orientation and it was generally true that good products could be sold without effort, encapsulated in the saying "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." This was largely due to the growing numbers of affluent and middle class people that capitalism had created. But after the untapped demand caused by the second world war was saturated in the 1950s it became obvious that products were not selling as easily as they had been. The answer was to concentrate on selling. The 1950s and 1960s is known as the sales era and the guiding philosophy of business of the time is today called the sales orientation. In the early 1970s Theodore Levitt and others at Harvard argued that the sales orientation had things backward. They claimed that instead of producing products then trying to sell them to the customer, businesses should start with the customer, find out what they wanted, and then produce it for them. The customer became the driving force behind all strategic business decisions. This marketing orientation, in the decades since its introduction, has been reformulated and repackaged under numerous names including customer orientation, marketing philosophy, customer intimacy, customer focus, customer driven, and market focused.

The Japanese challenge

In 2009, industry consultants Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckardt suggested that much of the Japanese business dominance that began in the mid 1970s was the direct result of competition enforcement efforts by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In 1975 the FTC reached a settlement with Xerox Corporation in its anti-trust lawsuit. (At the time, the FTC was under the direction of Frederic M. Scherer). The 1975 Xerox consent decree forced the licensing of the company’s entire patent portfolio, mainly to Japanese competitors. (See "compulsory license.") This action marked the start of an activist approach to managing competition by the FTC and DOJ, which resulted in the compulsory licensing of tens of thousands of patent from some of America's leading companies, including IBM, AT&T, DuPont, Bausch & Lomb, and Eastman Kodak.[original research?]

Within four years of the consent decree, Xerox's share of the U.S. copier market dropped from nearly 100% to less than 14%. Between 1950 and 1980 Japanese companies consummated more than 35,000 foreign licensing agreements, mostly with U.S. companies, for free or low-cost licenses made possible by the FTC and DOJ. The post-1975 era of anti-trust initiatives by Washington D.C. economists at the FTC corresponded directly with the rapid, unprecedented rise in Japanese competitiveness and a simultaneous stalling of the U.S. manufacturing economy.[15]

Competitive advantage

The Japanese challenge shook the confidence of the western business elite, but detailed comparisons of the two management styles and examinations of successful businesses convinced westerners that they could overcome the challenge. The 1980s and early 1990s saw a plethora of theories explaining exactly how this could be done. They cannot all be detailed here, but some of the more important strategic advances of the decade are explained below.

Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad declared that strategy needs to be more active and interactive; less “arm-chair planning” was needed. They introduced terms like strategic intent and strategic architecture.[16][17] Their most well known advance was the idea of core competency. They showed how important it was to know the one or two key things that your company does better than the competition.[18]

Active strategic management required active information gathering and active problem solving. In the early days of Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett devised an active management style that they called management by walking around (MBWA). Senior HP managers were seldom at their desks. They spent most of their days visiting employees, customers, and suppliers. This direct contact with key people provided them with a solid grounding from which viable strategies could be crafted. The MBWA concept was popularized in 1985 by a book by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin.[19] Japanese managers employ a similar system, which originated at Honda, and is sometimes called the 3 G's (Genba, Genbutsu, and Genjitsu, which translate into “actual place”, “actual thing”, and “actual situation”).

Probably the most influential strategist of the decade was Michael Porter. He introduced many new concepts including; 5 forces analysis, generic strategies, the value chain, strategic groups, and clusters. In 5 forces analysis he identifies the forces that shape a firm's strategic environment. It is like a SWOT analysis with structure and purpose. It shows how a firm can use these forces to obtain a sustainable competitive advantage. Porter modifies Chandler's dictum about structure following strategy by introducing a second level of structure: Organizational structure follows strategy, which in turn follows industry structure. Porter's generic strategies detail the interaction between cost minimization strategies, product differentiation strategies, and market focus strategies. Although he did not introduce these terms, he showed the importance of choosing one of them rather than trying to position your company between them. He also challenged managers to see their industry in terms of a value chain. A firm will be successful only to the extent that it contributes to the industry's value chain. This forced management to look at its operations from the customer's point of view. Every operation should be examined in terms of what value it adds in the eyes of the final customer.

In 1993, John Kay took the idea of the value chain to a financial level claiming “ Adding value is the central purpose of business activity”, where adding value is defined as the difference between the market value of outputs and the cost of inputs including capital, all divided by the firm's net output. Borrowing from Gary Hamel and Michael Porter, Kay claims that the role of strategic management is to identify your core competencies, and then assemble a collection of assets that will increase value added and provide a competitive advantage. He claims that there are 3 types of capabilities that can do this; innovation, reputation, and organizational structure.

The 1980s also saw the widespread acceptance of positioning theory. Although the theory originated with Jack Trout in 1969, it didn’t gain wide acceptance until Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote their classic book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” (1979). The basic premise is that a strategy should not be judged by internal company factors but by the way customers see it relative to the competition. Crafting and implementing a strategy involves creating a position in the mind of the collective consumer. Several techniques were applied to positioning theory, some newly invented but most borrowed from other disciplines. Perceptual mapping for example, creates visual displays of the relationships between positions. Multidimensional scaling, discriminant analysis, factor analysis, and conjoint analysis are mathematical techniques used to determine the most relevant characteristics (called dimensions or factors) upon which positions should be based. Preference regression can be used to determine vectors of ideal positions and cluster analysis can identify clusters of positions.

Others felt that internal company resources were the key. In 1992, Jay Barney, for example, saw strategy as assembling the optimum mix of resources, including human, technology, and suppliers, and then configure them in unique and sustainable ways.[20]

Michael Hammer and James Champy felt that these resources needed to be restructured.[21] This process, that they labeled reengineering, involved organizing a firm's assets around whole processes rather than tasks. In this way a team of people saw a project through, from inception to completion. This avoided functional silos where isolated departments seldom talked to each other. It also eliminated waste due to functional overlap and interdepartmental communications.

In 1989 Richard Lester and the researchers at the MIT Industrial Performance Center identified seven best practices and concluded that firms must accelerate the shift away from the mass production of low cost standardized products. The seven areas of best practice were:[22]

  • Simultaneous continuous improvement in cost, quality, service, and product innovation
  • Breaking down organizational barriers between departments
  • Eliminating layers of management creating flatter organizational hierarchies.
  • Closer relationships with customers and suppliers
  • Intelligent use of new technology
  • Global focus
  • Improving human resource skills

The search for “best practices” is also called benchmarking.[23] This involves determining where you need to improve, finding an organization that is exceptional in this area, then studying the company and applying its best practices in your firm.

A large group of theorists felt the area where western business was most lacking was product quality. People like W. Edwards Deming,[24] Joseph M. Juran,[25] A. Kearney,[26] Philip Crosby,[27] and Armand Feignbaum[28] suggested quality improvement techniques like total quality management (TQM), continuous improvement (kaizen), lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and return on quality (ROQ).

An equally large group of theorists felt that poor customer service was the problem. People like James Heskett (1988),[29] Earl Sasser (1995), William Davidow,[30] Len Schlesinger,[31] A. Paraurgman (1988), Len Berry,[32] Jane Kingman-Brundage,[33] Christopher Hart, and Christopher Lovelock (1994), gave us fishbone diagramming, service charting, Total Customer Service (TCS), the service profit chain, service gaps analysis, the service encounter, strategic service vision, service mapping, and service teams. Their underlying assumption was that there is no better source of competitive advantage than a continuous stream of delighted customers.

Process management uses some of the techniques from product quality management and some of the techniques from customer service management. It looks at an activity as a sequential process. The objective is to find inefficiencies and make the process more effective. Although the procedures have a long history, dating back to Taylorism, the scope of their applicability has been greatly widened, leaving no aspect of the firm free from potential process improvements. Because of the broad applicability of process management techniques, they can be used as a basis for competitive advantage.

Some realized that businesses were spending much more on acquiring new customers than on retaining current ones. Carl Sewell,[34] Frederick F. Reichheld,[35] C. Gronroos,[36] and Earl Sasser[37] showed us how a competitive advantage could be found in ensuring that customers returned again and again. This has come to be known as the loyalty effect after Reicheld's book of the same name in which he broadens the concept to include employee loyalty, supplier loyalty, distributor loyalty, and shareholder loyalty. They also developed techniques for estimating the lifetime value of a loyal customer, called customer lifetime value (CLV). A significant movement started that attempted to recast selling and marketing techniques into a long term endeavor that created a sustained relationship with customers (called relationship selling, relationship marketing, and customer relationship management). Customer relationship management (CRM) software (and its many variants) became an integral tool that sustained this trend.

James Gilmore and Joseph Pine found competitive advantage in mass customization.[38] Flexible manufacturing techniques allowed businesses to individualize products for each customer without losing economies of scale. This effectively turned the product into a service. They also realized that if a service is mass customized by creating a “performance” for each individual client, that service would be transformed into an “experience”. Their book, The Experience Economy,[39] along with the work of Bernd Schmitt convinced many to see service provision as a form of theatre. This school of thought is sometimes referred to as customer experience management (CEM).

Like Peters and Waterman a decade earlier, James Collins and Jerry Porras spent years conducting empirical research on what makes great companies. Six years of research uncovered a key underlying principle behind the 19 successful companies that they studied: They all encourage and preserve a core ideology that nurtures the company. Even though strategy and tactics change daily, the companies, nevertheless, were able to maintain a core set of values. These core values encourage employees to build an organization that lasts. In Built To Last (1994) they claim that short term profit goals, cost cutting, and restructuring will not stimulate dedicated employees to build a great company that will endure.[40] In 2000 Collins coined the term “built to flip” to describe the prevailing business attitudes in Silicon Valley. It describes a business culture where technological change inhibits a long term focus. He also popularized the concept of the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

Arie de Geus (1997) undertook a similar study and obtained similar results. He identified four key traits of companies that had prospered for 50 years or more. They are:

  • Sensitivity to the business environment — the ability to learn and adjust
  • Cohesion and identity — the ability to build a community with personality, vision, and purpose
  • Tolerance and decentralization — the ability to build relationships
  • Conservative financing

A company with these key characteristics he called a living company because it is able to perpetuate itself. If a company emphasizes knowledge rather than finance, and sees itself as an ongoing community of human beings, it has the potential to become great and endure for decades. Such an organization is an organic entity capable of learning (he called it a “learning organization”) and capable of creating its own processes, goals, and persona.

There are numerous ways by which a firm can try to create a competitive advantage – some will work but many will not. To help firms avoid a hit and miss approach to the creation of competitive advantage, Will Mulcaster [41] suggests that firms engage in a dialogue that centres around the question "Will the proposed competitive advantage create Perceived Differential Value?" The dialogue should raise a series of other pertinent questions, including:

  • "Will the proposed competitive advantage create something that is different from the competition?"
  • "Will the difference add value in the eyes of potential customers?" – This question will entail a discussion of the combined effects of price, product features and consumer perceptions.
  • "Will the product add value for the firm?" – Answering this question will require an examination of cost effectiveness and the pricing strategy.

The military theorists

In the 1980s some business strategists realized that there was a vast knowledge base stretching back thousands of years that they had barely examined. They turned to military strategy for guidance. Military strategy books such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, On War by von Clausewitz, and The Red Book by Mao Zedong became instant business classics. From Sun Tzu, they learned the tactical side of military strategy and specific tactical prescriptions. From Von Clausewitz, they learned the dynamic and unpredictable nature of military strategy. From Mao Zedong, they learned the principles of guerrilla warfare. The main marketing warfare books were:

Philip Kotler was a well-known proponent of marketing warfare strategy.

There were generally thought to be four types of business warfare theories. They are:

The marketing warfare literature also examined leadership and motivation, intelligence gathering, types of marketing weapons, logistics, and communications.

By the turn of the century marketing warfare strategies had gone out of favour. It was felt that they were limiting. There were many situations in which non-confrontational approaches were more appropriate. In 1989, Dudley Lynch and Paul L. Kordis published Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World. "The Strategy of the Dolphin” was developed to give guidance as to when to use aggressive strategies and when to use passive strategies. A variety of aggressiveness strategies were developed.

In 1993, J. Moore used a similar metaphor.[42] Instead of using military terms, he created an ecological theory of predators and prey (see ecological model of competition), a sort of Darwinian management strategy in which market interactions mimic long term ecological stability.

Strategic change

In 1968, Peter Drucker (1969) coined the phrase Age of Discontinuity to describe the way change forces disruptions into the continuity of our lives.[43] In an age of continuity attempts to predict the future by extrapolating from the past can be somewhat accurate. But according to Drucker, we are now in an age of discontinuity and extrapolating from the past is hopelessly ineffective. We cannot assume that trends that exist today will continue into the future. He identifies four sources of discontinuity: new technologies, globalization, cultural pluralism, and knowledge capital.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler in Future Shock described a trend towards accelerating rates of change.[44] He illustrated how social and technological norms had shorter lifespans with each generation, and he questioned society's ability to cope with the resulting turmoil and anxiety. In past generations periods of change were always punctuated with times of stability. This allowed society to assimilate the change and deal with it before the next change arrived. But these periods of stability are getting shorter and by the late 20th century had all but disappeared. In 1980 in The Third Wave, Toffler characterized this shift to relentless change as the defining feature of the third phase of civilization (the first two phases being the agricultural and industrial waves).[45] He claimed that the dawn of this new phase will cause great anxiety for those that grew up in the previous phases, and will cause much conflict and opportunity in the business world. Hundreds of authors, particularly since the early 1990s, have attempted to explain what this means for business strategy.

In 2000, Gary Hamel discussed strategic decay, the notion that the value of all strategies, no matter how brilliant, decays over time.[46]

In 1978, Dereck Abell (Abell, D. 1978) described strategic windows and stressed the importance of the timing (both entrance and exit) of any given strategy. This has led some strategic planners to build planned obsolescence into their strategies.[47]

In 1989, Charles Handy identified two types of change.[48] Strategic drift is a gradual change that occurs so subtly that it is not noticed until it is too late. By contrast, transformational change is sudden and radical. It is typically caused by discontinuities (or exogenous shocks) in the business environment. The point where a new trend is initiated is called a strategic inflection point by Andy Grove. Inflection points can be subtle or radical.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell discussed the importance of the tipping point, that point where a trend or fad acquires critical mass and takes off.[49]

In 1983, Noel Tichy wrote that because we are all beings of habit we tend to repeat what we are comfortable with.[50] He wrote that this is a trap that constrains our creativity, prevents us from exploring new ideas, and hampers our dealing with the full complexity of new issues. He developed a systematic method of dealing with change that involved looking at any new issue from three angles: technical and production, political and resource allocation, and corporate culture.

In 1990, Richard Pascale (Pascale, R. 1990) wrote that relentless change requires that businesses continuously reinvent themselves.[51] His famous maxim is “Nothing fails like success” by which he means that what was a strength yesterday becomes the root of weakness today, We tend to depend on what worked yesterday and refuse to let go of what worked so well for us in the past. Prevailing strategies become self-confirming. To avoid this trap, businesses must stimulate a spirit of inquiry and healthy debate. They must encourage a creative process of self renewal based on constructive conflict.

Peters and Austin (1985) stressed the importance of nurturing champions and heroes. They said we have a tendency to dismiss new ideas, so to overcome this, we should support those few people in the organization that have the courage to put their career and reputation on the line for an unproven idea.

In 1996, Adrian Slywotzky showed how changes in the business environment are reflected in value migrations between industries, between companies, and within companies.[52] He claimed that recognizing the patterns behind these value migrations is necessary if we wish to understand the world of chaotic change. In “Profit Patterns” (1999) he described businesses as being in a state of strategic anticipation as they try to spot emerging patterns. Slywotsky and his team identified 30 patterns that have transformed industry after industry.[53]

In 1997, Clayton Christensen (1997) took the position that great companies can fail precisely because they do everything right since the capabilities of the organization also defines its disabilities.[54] Christensen's thesis is that outstanding companies lose their market leadership when confronted with disruptive technology. He called the approach to discovering the emerging markets for disruptive technologies agnostic marketing, i.e., marketing under the implicit assumption that no one – not the company, not the customers – can know how or in what quantities a disruptive product can or will be used before they have experience using it.

A number of strategists use scenario planning techniques to deal with change. The way Peter Schwartz put it in 1991 is that strategic outcomes cannot be known in advance so the sources of competitive advantage cannot be predetermined.[55] The fast changing business environment is too uncertain for us to find sustainable value in formulas of excellence or competitive advantage. Instead, scenario planning is a technique in which multiple outcomes can be developed, their implications assessed, and their likeliness of occurrence evaluated. According to Pierre Wack, scenario planning is about insight, complexity, and subtlety, not about formal analysis and numbers.[56]

In 1988, Henry Mintzberg looked at the changing world around him and decided it was time to reexamine how strategic management was done.[57][58] He examined the strategic process and concluded it was much more fluid and unpredictable than people had thought. Because of this, he could not point to one process that could be called strategic planning. Instead Mintzberg concludes that there are five types of strategies:

  • Strategy as plan – a direction, guide, course of action – intention rather than actual
  • Strategy as ploy – a maneuver intended to outwit a competitor
  • Strategy as pattern – a consistent pattern of past behaviour – realized rather than intended
  • Strategy as position – locating of brands, products, or companies within the conceptual framework of consumers or other stakeholders – strategy determined primarily by factors outside the firm
  • Strategy as perspective – strategy determined primarily by a master strategist

In 1998, Mintzberg developed these five types of management strategy into 10 “schools of thought”. These 10 schools are grouped into three categories. The first group is prescriptive or normative. It consists of the informal design and conception school, the formal planning school, and the analytical positioning school. The second group, consisting of six schools, is more concerned with how strategic management is actually done, rather than prescribing optimal plans or positions. The six schools are the entrepreneurial, visionary, or great leader school, the cognitive or mental process school, the learning, adaptive, or emergent process school, the power or negotiation school, the corporate culture or collective process school, and the business environment or reactive school. The third and final group consists of one school, the configuration or transformation school, an hybrid of the other schools organized into stages, organizational life cycles, or “episodes”.[59]

In 1999, Constantinos Markides also wanted to reexamine the nature of strategic planning itself.[60] He describes strategy formation and implementation as an on-going, never-ending, integrated process requiring continuous reassessment and reformation. Strategic management is planned and emergent, dynamic, and interactive. J. Moncrieff (1999) also stresses strategy dynamics.[61] He recognized that strategy is partially deliberate and partially unplanned. The unplanned element comes from two sources: emergent strategies (result from the emergence of opportunities and threats in the environment) and Strategies in action (ad hoc actions by many people from all parts of the organization).

Some business planners are starting to use a complexity theory approach to strategy. Complexity can be thought of as chaos with a dash of order. Chaos theory deals with turbulent systems that rapidly become disordered. Complexity is not quite so unpredictable. It involves multiple agents interacting in such a way that a glimpse of structure may appear.

Information- and technology-driven strategy

Peter Drucker had theorized the rise of the “knowledge worker” back in the 1950s. He described how fewer workers would be doing physical labor, and more would be applying their minds. In 1984, John Nesbitt theorized that the future would be driven largely by information: companies that managed information well could obtain an advantage, however the profitability of what he calls the “information float” (information that the company had and others desired) would all but disappear as inexpensive computers made information more accessible.

Daniel Bell (1985) examined the sociological consequences of information technology, while Gloria Schuck and Shoshana Zuboff looked at psychological factors.[62] Zuboff, in her five year study of eight pioneering corporations made the important distinction between “automating technologies” and “infomating technologies”. She studied the effect that both had on individual workers, managers, and organizational structures. She largely confirmed Peter Drucker's predictions three decades earlier, about the importance of flexible decentralized structure, work teams, knowledge sharing, and the central role of the knowledge worker. Zuboff also detected a new basis for managerial authority, based not on position or hierarchy, but on knowledge (also predicted by Drucker) which she called “participative management”.[63]

In 1990, Peter Senge, who had collaborated with Arie de Geus at Dutch Shell, borrowed de Geus' notion of the learning organization, expanded it, and popularized it. The underlying theory is that a company's ability to gather, analyze, and use information is a necessary requirement for business success in the information age. (See organizational learning.) To do this, Senge claimed that an organization would need to be structured such that:[64]

  • People can continuously expand their capacity to learn and be productive,
  • New patterns of thinking are nurtured,
  • Collective aspirations are encouraged, and
  • People are encouraged to see the “whole picture” together.

Senge identified five disciplines of a learning organization. They are:

  • Personal responsibility, self reliance, and mastery — We accept that we are the masters of our own destiny. We make decisions and live with the consequences of them. When a problem needs to be fixed, or an opportunity exploited, we take the initiative to learn the required skills to get it done.
  • Mental models — We need to explore our personal mental models to understand the subtle effect they have on our behaviour.
  • Shared vision — The vision of where we want to be in the future is discussed and communicated to all. It provides guidance and energy for the journey ahead.
  • Team learning — We learn together in teams. This involves a shift from “a spirit of advocacy to a spirit of enquiry”.
  • Systems thinking — We look at the whole rather than the parts. This is what Senge calls the “Fifth discipline”. It is the glue that integrates the other four into a coherent strategy. For an alternative approach to the “learning organization”, see Garratt, B. (1987).

Since 1990 many theorists have written on the strategic importance of information, including J.B. Quinn,[65] J. Carlos Jarillo,[66] D.L. Barton,[67] Manuel Castells,[68] J.P. Lieleskin,[69] Thomas Stewart,[70] K.E. Sveiby,[71] Gilbert J. Probst,[72] and Shapiro and Varian[73] to name just a few.

Thomas A. Stewart, for example, uses the term intellectual capital to describe the investment an organization makes in knowledge. It is composed of human capital (the knowledge inside the heads of employees), customer capital (the knowledge inside the heads of customers that decide to buy from you), and structural capital (the knowledge that resides in the company itself).

Manuel Castells, describes a network society characterized by: globalization, organizations structured as a network, instability of employment, and a social divide between those with access to information technology and those without.

Geoffrey Moore (1991) and R. Frank and P. Cook[74] also detected a shift in the nature of competition. In industries with high technology content, technical standards become established and this gives the dominant firm a near monopoly. The same is true of networked industries in which interoperability requires compatibility between users. An example is word processor documents. Once a product has gained market dominance, other products, even far superior products, cannot compete. Moore showed how firms could attain this enviable position by using E.M. Rogers five stage adoption process and focusing on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. The most difficult step is making the transition between visionaries and pragmatists (See Crossing the Chasm). If successful a firm can create a bandwagon effect in which the momentum builds and your product becomes a de facto standard.

Evans and Wurster describe how industries with a high information component are being transformed.[75] They cite Encarta's demolition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (whose sales have plummeted 80% since their peak of $650 million in 1990). Encarta’s reign was speculated to be short-lived, eclipsed by collaborative encyclopedias like Wikipedia that can operate at very low marginal costs. Encarta's service was subsequently turned into an on-line service and dropped at the end of 2009. Evans also mentions the music industry which is desperately looking for a new business model. The upstart information savvy firms, unburdened by cumbersome physical assets, are changing the competitive landscape, redefining market segments, and disintermediating some channels. One manifestation of this is personalized marketing. Information technology allows marketers to treat each individual as its own market, a market of one. Traditional ideas of market segments will no longer be relevant if personalized marketing is successful.

The technology sector has provided some strategies directly. For example, from the software development industry agile software development provides a model for shared development processes.

Access to information systems have allowed senior managers to take a much more comprehensive view of strategic management than ever before. The most notable of the comprehensive systems is the balanced scorecard approach developed in the early 1990s by Drs. Robert S. Kaplan (Harvard Business School) and David Norton (Kaplan, R. and Norton, D. 1992). It measures several factors financial, marketing, production, organizational development, and new product development to achieve a 'balanced' perspective.

Knowledge Adaptive Strategy

Most current approaches to business "strategy" focus on the mechanics of management—e.g., Drucker's operational "strategies" – and as such are not true business strategy. In a post-industrial world these operationally focused business strategies hinge on conventional sources of advantage have essentially been eliminated:

  • Scale used to be very important. But now, with access to capital and a global marketplace, scale is achievable by multiple organizations simultaneously. In many cases, it can literally be rented.
  • Process improvement or “best practices” were once a favored source of advantage, but they were at best temporary, as they could be copied and adapted by competitors.
  • Owning the customer had always been thought of as an important form of competitive advantage. Now, however, customer loyalty is far less important and difficult to maintain as new brands and products emerge all the time.

In such a world, differentiation, as elucidated by Michael Porter, Botten and McManus is the only way to maintain economic or market superiority (i.e., comparative advantage) over competitors. A company must OWN the thing that differentiates it from competitors. Without IP ownership and protection, any product, process or scale advantage can be compromised or entirely lost. Competitors can copy them without fear of economic or legal consequences, thereby eliminating the advantage.

This principle is based on the idea of evolution: differentiation, selection, amplification and repetition. It is a form of strategy to deal with complex adaptive systems which individuals, businesses, the economy are all based on. The principle is based on the survival of the "fittest". The fittest strategy employed after trail and error and combination is then employed to run the company in its current market. Failed strategic plans are either discarded or used for another aspect of a business. The trade off between risk and return is taken into account when deciding which strategy to take. Cynefin model and the adaptive cycles of businesses are both good ways to develop KAS, reference Panarchy and Cynefin. Analyze the fitness landscapes for a product, idea, or service to better develop a more adaptive strategy.

(For an explanation and elucidation of the "post-industrial" worldview, see George Ritzer and Daniel Bell.)

Strategic decision making processes

Will Mulcaster [76] argues that while much research and creative thought has been devoted to generating alternative strategies, too little work has been done on what influences the quality of strategic decision making and the effectiveness with which strategies are implemented. For instance, in retrospect it can be seen that the financial crisis of 2008–9 could have been avoided if the banks had paid more attention to the risks associated with their investments, but how should banks change the way they make decisions to improve the quality of their decisions in the future? Mulcaster's Managing Forces framework addresses this issue by identifying 11 forces that should be incorporated into the processes of decision making and strategic implementation. The 11 forces are: Time; Opposing forces; Politics; Perception; Holistic effects; Adding value; Incentives; Learning capabilities; Opportunity cost; Risk; Style—which can be remembered by using the mnemonic 'TOPHAILORS'.

The psychology of strategic management

Several psychologists have conducted studies to determine the psychological patterns involved in strategic management. Typically senior managers have been asked how they go about making strategic decisions. A 1938 treatise by Chester Barnard, that was based on his own experience as a business executive, sees the process as informal, intuitive, non-routinized, and involving primarily oral, 2-way communications. Bernard says “The process is the sensing of the organization as a whole and the total situation relevant to it. It transcends the capacity of merely intellectual methods, and the techniques of discriminating the factors of the situation. The terms pertinent to it are “feeling”, “judgement”, “sense”, “proportion”, “balance”, “appropriateness”. It is a matter of art rather than science.”[77]

In 1973, Henry Mintzberg found that senior managers typically deal with unpredictable situations so they strategize in ad hoc, flexible, dynamic, and implicit ways. . He says, “The job breeds adaptive information-manipulators who prefer the live concrete situation. The manager works in an environment of stimulous-response, and he develops in his work a clear preference for live action.”[78]

In 1982, John Kotter studied the daily activities of 15 executives and concluded that they spent most of their time developing and working a network of relationships that provided general insights and specific details for strategic decisions. They tended to use “mental road maps” rather than systematic planning techniques.[79]

Daniel Isenberg's 1984 study of senior managers found that their decisions were highly intuitive. Executives often sensed what they were going to do before they could explain why.[80] He claimed in 1986 that one of the reasons for this is the complexity of strategic decisions and the resultant information uncertainty.[81]

Shoshana Zuboff (1988) claims that information technology is widening the divide between senior managers (who typically make strategic decisions) and operational level managers (who typically make routine decisions). She claims that prior to the widespread use of computer systems, managers, even at the most senior level, engaged in both strategic decisions and routine administration, but as computers facilitated (She called it “deskilled”) routine processes, these activities were moved further down the hierarchy, leaving senior management free for strategic decision making.

In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik identified a difference between leaders and managers. He describes leadershipleaders as visionaries who inspire. They care about substance. Whereas managers are claimed to care about process, plans, and form.[82] He also claimed in 1989 that the rise of the manager was the main factor that caused the decline of American business in the 1970s and 80s.The main difference between leader and manager is that, leader has followers and manager has subordinates. In capitalistic society leaders make decisions and manager usually follow or execute.[83] Lack of leadership is most damaging at the level of strategic management where it can paralyze an entire organization.[84]

According to Corner, Kinichi, and Keats,[85] strategic decision making in organizations occurs at two levels: individual and aggregate. They have developed a model of parallel strategic decision making. The model identifies two parallel processes that both involve getting attention, encoding information, storage and retrieval of information, strategic choice, strategic outcome, and feedback. The individual and organizational processes are not independent however. They interact at each stage of the process.

Reasons why strategic plans fail

There are many reasons why strategic plans fail, especially:

  • Failure to execute by overcoming the four key organizational hurdles[86]
    • Cognitive hurdle
    • Motivational hurdle
    • Resource hurdle
    • Political hurdle
  • Failure to understand the customer
    • Why do they buy
    • Is there a real need for the product
    • inadequate or incorrect marketing research
  • Inability to predict environmental reaction
    • What will competitors do
    • Will government intervene
  • Over-estimation of resource competence
    • Can the staff, equipment, and processes handle the new strategy
    • Failure to develop new employee and management skills
  • Failure to coordinate
    • Reporting and control relationships not adequate
    • Organizational structure not flexible enough
  • Failure to obtain senior management commitment
    • Failure to get management involved right from the start
    • Failure to obtain sufficient company resources to accomplish task
  • Failure to obtain employee commitment
    • New strategy not well explained to employees
    • No incentives given to workers to embrace the new strategy
  • Under-estimation of time requirements
    • No critical path analysis done
  • Failure to follow the plan
    • No follow through after initial planning
    • No tracking of progress against plan
    • No consequences for above
  • Failure to manage change
    • Inadequate understanding of the internal resistance to change
    • Lack of vision on the relationships between processes, technology and organization
  • Poor communications
    • Insufficient information sharing among stakeholders
    • Exclusion of stakeholders and delegates

Limitations of strategic management

Although a sense of direction is important, it can also stifle creativity, especially if it is rigidly enforced. In an uncertain and ambiguous world, fluidity can be more important than a finely tuned strategic compass. When a strategy becomes internalized into a corporate culture, it can lead to group think. It can also cause an organization to define itself too narrowly. An example of this is marketing myopia.

Many theories of strategic management tend to undergo only brief periods of popularity. A summary of these theories thus inevitably exhibits survivorship bias (itself an area of research in strategic management). Many theories tend either to be too narrow in focus to build a complete corporate strategy on, or too general and abstract to be applicable to specific situations. Populism or faddishness can have an impact on a particular theory's life cycle and may see application in inappropriate circumstances. See business philosophies and popular management theories for a more critical view of management theories.

In 2000, Gary Hamel coined the term strategic convergence to explain the limited scope of the strategies being used by rivals in greatly differing circumstances. He lamented that strategies converge more than they should, because the more successful ones are imitated by firms that do not understand that the strategic process involves designing a custom strategy for the specifics of each situation.[46]

Ram Charan, aligning with a popular marketing tagline, believes that strategic planning must not dominate action. "Just do it!" while not quite what he meant, is a phrase that nevertheless comes to mind when combatting analysis paralysis.

The linearity trap

It is tempting to think that the elements of strategic management – (i) reaching consensus on corporate objectives; (ii) developing a plan for achieving the objectives; and (iii) marshalling and allocating the resources required to implement the plan – can be approached sequentially. It would be convenient, in other words, if one could deal first with the noble question of ends, and then address the mundane question of means.

But in the world where strategies must be implemented, the three elements are interdependent. Means are as likely to determine ends as ends are to determine means.[87] The objectives that an organization might wish to pursue are limited by the range of feasible approaches to implementation. (There will usually be only a small number of approaches that will not only be technically and administratively possible, but also satisfactory to the full range of organizational stakeholders.) In turn, the range of feasible implementation approaches is determined by the availability of resources.

And so, although participants in a typical “strategy session” may be asked to do “blue sky” thinking where they pretend that the usual constraints – resources, acceptability to stakeholders , administrative feasibility – have been lifted, the fact is that it rarely makes sense to divorce oneself from the environment in which a strategy will have to be implemented. It’s probably impossible to think in any meaningful way about strategy in an unconstrained environment. Our brains can’t process “boundless possibilities”, and the very idea of strategy only has meaning in the context of challenges or obstacles to be overcome. It’s at least as plausible to argue that acute awareness of constraints is the very thing that stimulates creativity by forcing us to constantly reassess both means and ends in light of circumstances.

The key question, then, is, "How can individuals, organizations and societies cope as well as possible with ... issues too complex to be fully understood, given the fact that actions initiated on the basis of inadequate understanding may lead to significant regret?"[88]

The answer is that the process of developing organizational strategy must be iterative. Such an approach has been called the Strategic Incrementalisation Perspective.[89] It involves toggling back and forth between questions about objectives, implementation planning and resources. An initial idea about corporate objectives may have to be altered if there is no feasible implementation plan that will meet with a sufficient level of acceptance among the full range of stakeholders, or because the necessary resources are not available, or both.

Even the most talented manager would no doubt agree that "comprehensive analysis is impossible" for complex problems.[90] Formulation and implementation of strategy must thus occur side-by-side rather than sequentially, because strategies are built on assumptions that, in the absence of perfect knowledge, are never perfectly correct. Strategic management is necessarily a "...repetitive learning cycle [rather than] a linear progression towards a clearly defined final destination."[91] While assumptions can and should be tested in advance, the ultimate test is implementation. You will inevitably need to adjust corporate objectives and/or your approach to pursuing outcomes and/or assumptions about required resources. Thus a strategy will get remade during implementation because "humans rarely can proceed satisfactorily except by learning from experience; and modest probes, serially modified on the basis of feedback, usually are the best method for such learning."[92]

It serves little purpose (other than to provide a false aura of certainty sometimes demanded by corporate strategists and planners) to pretend to anticipate every possible consequence of a corporate decision, every possible constraining or enabling factor, and every possible point of view. At the end of the day, what matters for the purposes of strategic management is having a clear view – based on the best available evidence and on defensible assumptions – of what it seems possible to accomplish within the constraints of a given set of circumstances.[citation needed] As the situation changes, some opportunities for pursuing objectives will disappear and others arise. Some implementation approaches will become impossible, while others, previously impossible or unimagined, will become viable.[citation needed]

The essence of being “strategic” thus lies in a capacity for "intelligent trial-and error"[93] rather than linear adherence to finally honed and detailed strategic plans. Strategic management will add little value—indeed, it may well do harm—if organizational strategies are designed to be used as a detailed blueprints for managers. Strategy should be seen, rather, as laying out the general path—but not the precise steps—an organization will follow to create value.[94] Strategic management is a question of interpreting, and continuously reinterpreting, the possibilities presented by shifting circumstances for advancing an organization's objectives. Doing so requires strategists to think simultaneously about desired objectives, the best approach for achieving them, and the resources implied by the chosen approach. It requires a frame of mind that admits of no boundary between means and ends.

It may not be so limiting as suggested in "The linearity trap" above. Strategic thinking/ identification takes place within the gambit of organizational capacity and Industry dynamics. The two common approaches to strategic analysis are value analysis and SWOT analysis. Yes Strategic analysis takes place within the constraints of existing/potential organizational resources but its would not be appropriate to call it a trap. For e.g., SWOT tool involves analysis of the organization's internal environment (Strengths & weaknesses) and its external environment (opportunities & threats). The organization's strategy is built using its strengths to exploit opportunities, while managing the risks arising from internal weakness and external threats. It further involves contrasting its strengths & weaknesses to determine if the organization has enough strengths to offset its weaknesses. Applying the same logic, at the external level, contrast is made between the externally existing opportunities and threats to determine if the organization is capitalizing enough on opportunities to offset emerging threats.[citation needed]

Putting creativity and innovation into strategy

Given that companies of all sizes are competing on the global stage, and the pace of change and level of complexity have skyrocketed in the last decade, creative strategy development is needed more than ever. In 2010, IBM released a study summarizing three conclusions of 1500 CEOs around the world: 1) complexity is escalating, 2) enterprises are not equipped to cope with this complexity, and 3) creativity is now the single most important leadership competency. IBM said that it is needed in all aspects of leadership, including strategic thinking and planning.[95]

James Bandrowski declared in 1990 that strategy development should no longer be just an analytical exercise, but should be highly creative with an aim to conceiving and executing an innovative strategy that creates competitive distinction and elates customers.[96] He introduced a sine wave approach that amplifies the strategic thinking of all participants in the development and execution of strategy. It can be used at the corporate level, for every function in the organization, as well as in mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and turnarounds. He states, the bigger the amplitude (measure of the height and depth of a sine wave) of one’s thinking and feeling, the greater the chance of value-added breakthrough thinking and achieving stretch goals. In 2009, he declared that a small amplitude both positively and negatively in one’s thinking is the metaphorical “box” in thinking outside the box.

See also

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