Rethinking Strategy - Changing the Way Organisations Lead
Jun 26, 2020
I have heard it said that Covid-19 could be viewed as a ‘Time Machine’ that has transported the future to us sooner than we expected. Pandemic such as Covid-19 tend to accelerate pre-existing trends i.e. Digital transition & interfaces for a wide range of tasks, online interactions & relationships, working from home etc. Therefore, there has never been a better time to consider an organisation/business strategy to benefit from this ‘Time Machine’. It seems to me that we have to reassess the term ‘Strategy’ if we wish to benefit from this monumental (historic) change.
Strategy traditionally seems to involve setting goals/objectives and determining actions to achieve these goals, then organising resources to achieve the objectives. This approach can often be viewed as an outcome of strategy or a strategic plan. It does not really explain what strategy is!
After many years spent in the world of Management Consultancy/Education, I now take the view that many organisations around the world do not have a strategy but a business plan. I am of the belief that many in fact do not even understand the word ‘Strategy’. I recognise that this may sound a little harsh and perhaps even slightly pretentious, but it is important to note that there are many other eminent speakers and scholars in this field that would say the same thing. The American academic Michael E Porter, well known for his theories on economics, business strategy, and social causes is one such example.
The starting point in understanding the term ‘Strategy’ is to focus on the origins of the word, which, in fact derive from the Greek word ‘Strategos’ which translates to ‘Military General’. In the Hellenistic world and Byzantine Empire, the term was also used to describe a military governor. The importance of this role was to achieve a military based advantage over enemies in order to win a war; it was only until later that the French modified the word to that of ‘Strategy’.
It can be very helpful when thinking strategically that the focus shift to how an organisation/business could achieve overall advantage, especially when coping with large-scale challenges such as Covid-19. We may limit any real advantage if we only view strategy as a plan and a list of objectives.
A plan by its nature requires convergent thinking, but in fact, and in contrast, if we need to think strategically then it is very important to think in an innovative way, therefore divergent thinking will be useful here. This thought process or method is to generate creative ideas by exploring multiple solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free flowing ‘nonlinear’ manner.
I recognise that this methodology challenges the traditional approach towards strategy, and it is important to note that the traditional strategic tools are still useful, however success for today’s organisations/businesses would benefit from both approaches. Therefore, it will be important to either hire divergent thinkers or develop them in order to find innovative solutions to difficult problems, developing flexible strategies and leading change for your organisation/business.
When organisations/businesses typically develop their strategy they usually ask traditional questions and therefore get traditional answers, for example “where are we now, where do we want to get to and how do we get there?”
These types of questions are analytical, convergent and do not lead to strategic thinking. Divergent thinking on the other hand is now becoming a fundamental element of strategic thinking.
- How can we increase the distance and difference between the competitors and us?
- How can we capture most of the value we create?
- How can we avoid the arrogance and complacency that nearly always accompanies success?
There are many reasons why organisations/businesses do not ask these types of questions; largely the workforce is not encouraged to come up with new ideas.
How many times have you heard a colleague come up with a unique idea and then be pushed down by someone saying, ‘we tried that once and it did not work?’
The way forward is not solely about personal development, organisations/businesses will need to evolve a culture and climate where the workforce is empowered to think differently.
Never waste a good crisis, Covid-19 has forced many organisations/businesses into radical change: traditional business models are under threat.
As lockdown begins to unwind, failure to react now might mean a failure to survive.
“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”
Author: Nigel Leach DMS. M.A. MSc, FifL
If you are interest to find out more about our courses click here