Creating the future
Top management often perceives restructuring and reengineering as the only escape routes from a business that has become hopelessly mature. It is widely accepted that both actions are effective lifelines in the battle for market share and position but that they do not create a future. To create the future, an entire company must possess industry foresight and top management must take its responsibility and help the organization build an intellectually compelling and emotionally enticing view of the future.
How is it that, when facing the same set of environmental trends and conditions, some companies seem capable of weaving together a view of the future that is imaginative, compelling and foresightedly, and other companies seem merely confused! Many times, it is not the unknowable future but the fact that it is different, which forces us to look at the future through the narrow aperture of existing markets, well-known effective solutions and our own experience.
Escaping the past
All of us carry around a set of biases, assumptions and presuppositions about the structure of the relevant industry; about how one makes money in that industry; about who the competition is and isn't; about what customers want and don't want; about which technologies are viable and which aren't. About how to best motivate people, about the relative ranking of shareholders, customers and employees’ interests; the right balance of internal cooperation and competition; what behaviors to encourage and discourage. About beliefs, values and norms which are - at least in part - the product of a particular industry environment.
We are prisoners - to one degree or another - of our environment, our educational experiences, our career experiences locked into our behavioral patterns. So, when the industry environment changes rapidly and radically, those behavioral patterns may become a threat to survival and to future success. For most of us it is quite a shock to learn that most of the emotional equity invested and intellectual capital accumulated may be of little value in a changing industry environment.
To see the future a company must be capable of selective forgetting the past and must have the ability to create the future, by way of challenging strategies.
What is strategy? What sort of decisions are strategic decisions?
The nature of strategic management is different from other aspects of management. Strategy has to do with matching of the activities of an organization to the environment and to its capabilities; it has to do with creating a broad agenda for functionality deployment and competence acquisition; it has to do with widely debating and understanding the organization’s future. Strategic decisions often have major resource implications, are likely to be concerned with the scope of an organization’s activities, may well affect the long-term direction of an organization and they are often complex in nature. The strategy of an organization will be affected by the values and expectations of those influencing strategy.
Strategic management is concerned with deciding on strategy and planning how that strategy is to be put into effect; it is the management of the process of strategic decision making.
Challenges of strategic management
Obviously, managers have to be able to cope with overall considerations of their organization and its environment. This is not easy to do. It is necessary to develop a facility to take a holistic view of the situation and conceive of major overall problems rather than dwell on difficulties which - real as they may be - are not of strategic significance.
Over time, organizations do not survive and flourish simply because they are efficient at what they are doing. Controlling working capital, cutting wastage rates, are all important to the performance of a business, but do not create the future by itself. Central and crucial to the survival, development and prosperity of an organization is the extent to which managers are able to obtain, allocate and control its resources in such a way as to take advantage of the changes that go on in its environment and avoid or overcome the threats these pose. Also, we already mentioned the challenge of forgetting selectively the past, the industry based recipes and models of reality (perceived wisdom of the key factors for business success in a particular environment).
Strategic management is not only the preoccupation of senior management. It is much more usual for strategy to evolve as a result of the activities, perceptions and influence of many other individuals including the different levels of management. Furthermore, the implementation of strategy without all levels of management understanding the strategic issues involved is a - guaranteed - formula for disaster.
A Personal Challenge
It is hard, it takes discipline, it requires managers to examine the company's and their personal fundamental assumptions and presuppositions. In most cases that means engaging themselves in tough debate impacting established relationships, ways of doing business and making decisions altering careers. To be frank, some professionals say that 'strategic thinking and acting' cannot be learned. Others say that it is a competency that can be learned, but requires major efforts because it means changing our very personal style of behaving.
If you are interested in learning more about your style,