Perspectives of strategic thinking


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Perspectives of strategic thinking

  1. 1. Copyright © eContent Management Pty Ltd. Journal of Management & Organization (2009) 15: 17–30. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it M ATTHEW R FAIRHOLM Political Science Department and WO Farber Center for Civic Leadership, University of South Dakota, Vermillion SD, USA M ICHAEL CARD Political Science Department and WO Farber Center for Civic Leadership, University of South Dakota, Vermillion SD, USA ABSTRACT There is an increasing focus in today’s organization on measuring results and calculating return on investment. Efforts of administrators today to control organizational endeavors are essential and generally aligned with current best practices. Control mechanisms, however, ultimately prove to be only part of the puzzle. Strategic planning, encompassing such activities as planning, performance measurement, program budgeting, and the like, has proven to be very useful but limited. It is a tech- nical fix that gets at only part of the question of organizational effectiveness and only deals with some organizational dilemmas. In the face of such realities, the notion of strategic thinking emerges to fill the gaps and overcome the limitations that experience with strategic planning has proven to exhibit. This paper presents an integration of leadership ideas, strategic thinking and traditional planning activities in an effort to make important connections and important distinctions. Keywords: leadership, management, strategic planning, strategic thinking, systems theory, organizational philosophy, public sector T he struggle for organizational effectiveness in public organizations is ongoing at all lev- els. The efforts to attach specific measurements to ment, program budgeting, and the like, has proven to be very useful but limited. It is a tech- nical fix that gets at only part of the question of specific objectives with a specific budget have organizational effectiveness and only deals with proven to be very useful, inherently logical, and some of the dilemmas organizations face. not nearly enough. The efforts of public adminis- In the face of such realities, the notion of trators to control organizational activities are strategic thinking emerges to fill the gaps and essential, necessary, and aligned with current best overcome the limitations that experience with practices (see Berry 1994). But they ultimately strategic planning and strategic management has prove to be only part of the puzzle. Strategic proven to exhibit. The goal of strategic thinking planning, an umbrella term used to summarize is much the same goal of organizational leader- such activities as planning, performance measure- ship. While strategic planning is upward focused, Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 17
  2. 2. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card looking at ensuring how tactics link up to orga- the Organization’s Strategic Goals…, 2. Links nizational goals and strategies, strategic thinking Daily Tasks to Strategies, or Long-term Per- is holistically-focused, looking to ensure that spectives…, 3. Develops Work Plans Based on meaning and purpose are diffused throughout Strategic Priorities..., 4. Develops Strategies in the organization so that appropriate goals and Support of the Mission... tactics can be developed to meet the real needs of the organization. Strategic planning in this sense The Inter-American Development Bank lists is more linked to the work of classical manage- Strategic Thinking as one of its Leadership Com- ment, while strategic thinking is linked more to petencies and defines it this way (Personnel the work of leadership (Shelton & Darling 2001; Decisions 2001): Whitlock 2003; Focus 2008). Drawing much Strategic Thinking: Staying abreast of IDB from classic strategic management and public comparator institutions, political, economic, sector literature, this paper presents an integra- and technological developments. Going tion of leadership ideas, strategic thinking, and beyond the questions that are routine or traditional planning activities in an effort to required for one’s job, and recognizing the make important connections and important dis- broader ‘context’ of ‘big picture.’ Identifying tinctions that can be useful in private and public key or underlying issues in complex situa- contexts. tions. DEFINITIONS AND CONTEXT This definition is significantly different from Defining strategic thinking is still a work in what the Bank lists as its definition of Planning, progress in academic literature. We see the begin- one of its Managing Resources Competencies nings of a theoretical foundation for the strategic (Personnel Decisions 2001): thinking competency emerge, but more is to be Planning and Implementing: Translates strate- done. The consulting world and human resource gic goals and priorities into realistic and flexi- departments have also taken up the charge and ble plans and programs; monitors the begun, at least, the definitional work of strategic implementation of plans to ensure that key thinking. The effort is to distinguish traditional results are achieved. strategic planning from the more general notion of strategic thinking. The U.S. District of Columbia government The U.S. Internal Revenue Service offers included Strategic Thinking into its Manage- another definition of Strategic Thinking as a ment Supervisory Services development activi- leadership competency which offers another ties. Early efforts to define the term combined clearly different comparison to strategic planning such ideas as conceptual thinking, information (Internal Revenue Service 2001): seeking, clarifying complex data and situations, and learning from experience. Strategic Thinking: Formulates effective The President of the Public Service Human strategies that take into account the external Resources Management Agency of Canada and influences on an organization from a national the President of the Public Service Commission and global perspective. Examines policy issues of Canada outlined an updated list of key leader- and strategic planning with a long-term per- ship competencies in 2005. These competencies, spective leading to a compelling organizational in their view, reflect the skills, abilities, and char- vision. Determines objectives, sets priorities acteristics needed in the public sector to meet and builds upon strengths. Anticipates poten- current and future challenges. They define strate- tial threats or opportunities. 1. Understands gic thinking as follows: 18 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  3. 3. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it PS leaders advise and plan based on analysis of strategic thinking differ in approach using com- issues and trends, and how these link to the mon terms to managers: how (actions taken to responsibilities, capabilities, and potential of achieve a strategy), what (defining goals and their organization. They scan an ever-chang- objectives worthy of pursuit), and why (the values ing, complex environment in anticipation of based rationale linking strategic capabilities with emerging crises and opportunities. They devel- positioning. Our rationale to draw these distinc- op well-informed advice and strategies that are tions is to clarify different types of strategic think- sensitive to the various needs of multiple stake- ing because if we call everything strategic holders and partners, reflect the strategic direc- thinking, we create confusion and undermine our tion of the PS, and position the organization own credibility. Four simple categories may help for success (Key Leadership 2008) decipher the differences and nuances of the many definitions. Table 1 describes these approaches in While only a very few, these citations serve to more traditional strategic vocabulary. illustrate the definitional work going on in pub- lic organizations with respect to strategic think- TABLE 1: F OUR APPROACHES AND DESCRIPTIONS ing. Below we find the attempts of scholars and Approach label Description researchers to define strategic thinking. For How Strategy as Plan example, Abraham (2005) asserts that the search What-How Strategy as Position for alternate appropriate strategies is actually What-Why-How Mission-Based Strategy strategic thinking in action. Allio (2006: 4) Why-What-How Strategic Thinking or Vision defined strategic thinking as ‘the systematic Based Strategy analysis of the organization and the formulation of its longer-term direction’. The goal is to find The how approaches: Strategy as clarity on what we do in this realm of organiza- plan tional life so that we can do it better, more Some define strategic thinking only as glorified explicitly. planning. The ‘how’ approaches imply the exis- Why worry so much about the definition? It tence of a pre-determined set of objectives is because differences without a distinction are and/or a mechanism to receive them. This is more useful in debate class than in practical most apparent in public sector agencies when application. Differences with a distinction, how- missions and mandates and even timelines are ever, challenge us to see and do our work in new handed down to public mangers by legislative ways. Such distinctions help us both analyze our bodies. Management conducts strategic planning work differently and develop different skills to to determine the most appropriate means (set of apply. Initially, then, strategic thinking seems to actions) to achieve those objectives. be 1) fundamentally different than strategic plan- The How approach, though, ultimately focus- ning and 2) more innovatively practical. es on traditional strategic planning which asks Many definitions for strategic thinking have how we are to achieve mission priorities and out- emerged. They range from ‘thinking about plan- lines which actions should be taken when. Mis- ning’ to engaging in a holistic approach to orga- sion objectives and goals are assumed from the nizational life that allows you to see and feel the nature of the business and made explicit by man- issues you and yours are and will be facing. Again, agement so that plans can be made to methodi- we label these efforts the beginnings of a defini- cally account for activity designed to achieve the tion of strategic thinking because these defini- end result. Hamel and Prahalad (1989) refer to tions have not coalesced. In the following this traditional way of strategic planning as fill- sections, we want to clarify how these types of ing out forms. However, Wilson (1994) suggests Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 19
  4. 4. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card we have improved upon past strategic planning which to operate, and these resources must be models so much that what has emerged is some- valuable, rare, inimitable, sustainable, and appro- thing more usefully referred to as strategic think- priable. Porter (1980; 1985) provides another ing or strategic management. To these kinds of framework to assist in strategic thinking as orga- approaches we now turn. nizational positioning. In essence, Porter argues the organization must be positioned in an indus- The what-how approaches: Strategy try that has the potential for success, or that the as position organization and its strategists (and by implica- Thinking about planning, or thinking before tion, its managers as well) must make changes in planning, is a natural evolution from the ‘how’ operations (the value chain) to find an environ- mindset. This approach varies in its application ment where they can exploit their competitive but basically demands that we become clear on position for superior performance. Oster (1999) what we are to do in the context of current has modified Porter’s five forces model to include external and internal affairs and then devise third-party payers as a ‘buyer.’ This is important proper plans and monitoring systems to make in that it makes this What-How approach appli- sure we do the right things (see Wootton & cable to the public and nonprofit sectors. Horne 2002). The what-how approaches are Armed with such information, an organiza- about disciplined thinking leading to organiza- tion can determine its comparative advantage, its tional focus. Birnbaum (2004) suggests ‘focus’ is strategic niche, its position in the industry and the key ingredient to good planning and is the devise clear statements of what the organization very thing that makes planning strategic. Cou- needs to do to maintain or improve its position- pled with an appreciation for good people in the ing. The what-how approaches often utilize mar- organization, careful management of processes, ket segmentation techniques to provide the focus and the development of an intimate understand- necessary for disciplined thinking about posi- ing of their markets, focus is essential to organi- tioning the organization relative to the customer zational success. in the private sector, and to the client in New To capture these ideas and determine focus, Public Management and traditional public sector planners (thinkers) have various tools at their organizations (see Gulick 1937). The what-how disposal, such as SWOT analysis for Strengths, approach does not, however, specify which set of Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, or PES- customers or clients should be first the subject of TLE scanning for Political, Economic, Social, this focus, apparently leaving this for an applica- Technological, Legal, and Environmental, or tion of economic decision criteria. Traditional BACHA analysis for Blindspots, Assumptions, mission statements help clarify where the organi- Complacency, Habits, and Attitudes (see Tan zation should focus its efforts, though. With a 2000; Jenkins & Backoff 1985). In the SWOT well-constructed mission, organizations are in a approach, for instance, organizational planners better position to determine steps to achieve identify organizational strengths that can be cap- their methodically devised goals (their ‘whats’) italized upon to form the resource base from using traditional planning techniques as found in which the organization uses to capture advantage the how approaches noted above. from opportunities and to avoid threats in the environment. These schemes were developed in The what-why-how approaches: the 1920a, and were further developed into the Mission-based planning resource based theory of competitive advantage. This third category of definitions for strategic Barney (1995; 1997) and Grant (1993) claim thinking revolves around the notions of vision- that organizations must have resources from ing, scenario building, and forecasting to achieve 20 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  5. 5. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it a desired outcome. Saloner et al. (2001) suggest plan to accomplish the mission and achieve the that planning and the development of planning objectives that flow from it. documents are no substitute for thinking. In In the public and private sector, missions are essence critiquing the previous two approaches, often set in statute or ordinance or ‘given’ by the they suggest that many planning processes dwell founder. However, they do need to be massaged too much on the ‘to do’s’ of tactical implementa- to fit existing systems and processes. The purpose tion and on resource allocation and too little on of the economic rent-seeking firm has little varia- building a coherent mental model of the busi- tion except that it is to maximize profits or to ness. Rather than a once-a-year formal exercise, return a cash flow at a rate of return in excess of strategic thinking is, in their view, an on-going the cost of capital. And the social responsibility frame of mind in which the general manager of business literature casts some doubt on these constantly tracks strategic assets and the external as the sole purposes of the organization. Hence, environment to ensure that the logic of the firm’s the private firms also must massage their mis- strategy is aligned with the firm’s internal and sions and take into account systems and process- external contexts. es at play. We see, then, that specific missions In this sense, strategic thinking is about infer- have more variation than one often assumes and ring (based on current knowledge, needs, and resemble Mintzberg’s notion of strategy as ‘per- wants) future Whats and why they may or may spective.’ not occur, and then devising plans (how) to han- The what-why-how approaches are the domi- dle such potential eventualities. Such an nant model of strategic thinking today. Hunter approach requires the creation of a vision based and O’Shannassy (2007) reviewed their own and on legitimate assumptions, expert analysis, and other’s work in strategic planning in the 2000s to what-if thinking that is communicated through- review the relationship between strategic plan- out the organization and implemented through ning and performance. They noted that contem- good management and monitoring processes porary strategic management and planning (Atwater, Kannan & Stephens 2008; see also practices followed traditional approaches in Aus- Forrester 1971; Senge 1990). Moore (1995) tralian major corporations. The firms used com- developed a positive theory of managerial behav- petitive analysis techniques, market share and ior, asking questions like ‘What kind of business growth matrices, etc. They also reviewed other are you today and what kind do you want to be period pieces to note that executives said they in the future?’ These questions form the founda- preferred analysis but found that intuition tion of the what-why-how approaches. Alford (apparently defined as thinking) was really more (2002) explains the importance of (and methods important in the final decision making process. to) determining the Whats (the missions and Hunter and O’Shannassy go on to say: purposes) of public sector organizations by realiz- the regression results clearly evidenced that the ing and analyzing the notion of exchange, coop- creative, instinctive, people-oriented, partici- eration and compliance that take place in the pative aspects of strategic thinking had more customer-based approach. Ultimately, this influence on company performance than the approach endeavors to foresee or forecast various rational mode with its use of classic tools such potential futures and from those potentials as the Boston Consulting Group matrix and choose the most appropriate which are often competitive analysis (Hunter & O’Shannassy called missions or visions that anticipate specific 2007: 30). goals. The organization is then clear on what it wants to be and why and is in a better position This is not an easy process, though it seems to plan the proper implementation or tactical apparent that it is an essential element of any dis- Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 21
  6. 6. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card tinction to be made between planning and tions (see Abramson 1996; Frost & Egri 1990). thinking. Camillus (2008: 100) noted that ana- That may be what Mintzberg (1994) alludes to in lytical skills of strategists and their analytical his pivotal work decrying the pervasiveness of dis- tools ‘…can’t develop models of the increasingly jointed planners in modern organizations. Strate- complex environment in which they operate.’ gic planning, as it has been practiced, has really This notion of ‘wicked problems’ is not new (see been ‘strategic programming…. Planning has Ansoff 1965, Jenkins & Backoff 1985), but has always been about analysis – about breaking down seldom been resolved. Camillus suggests that the a goal or set of intentions into steps, formalizing first step in resolving complex integrated prob- those steps so that they can be implemented lems is to focus first on organizational identity: almost automatically and articulating the antici- What is fundamentally important to the organi- pated consequence or results of each step’ zation? What competencies does the organiza- (Mintzberg 1994: 109). Mintzberg identifies a tion have and how does it view success. These are different competency, or set of activities, that need questions about what the organization values. to be a part of successful organizations. He says: This reflects Mintzberg’s (1994) classic debate, strategic thinking is …about synthesis. It reflects the important of leadership to strategy, involves intuition and creativity. The outcome and points to the next approach. of strategic thinking is an integrated perspec- tive of the enterprise, a not-too-precisely artic- The why-what-how approach ulated vision of direction…. Strategy making Though the previous definitions help popularize is not an isolated process. It does not happen strategic thinking, essentially, strategic thinking just because a meeting is held with that label. is a unique competency of leadership based more To the contrary, strategy making is a process on organizational philosophy than organizational interwoven with all that it takes to manage an technicism. Derek Abell (1980) explained that organization. Systems do not think, and when the most fundamental task of a strategist was to they are used for more than the facilitation of determine who will be served by the organiza- human thinking, they can prevent thinking tion (who will the customers and clients be?), (Mintzberg 1994: 109). what will be offered (products and services), and how will we create and provide our products Mintzberg’s thesis begins to reflect a substitute and services to customers and clients? We wish for (or perhaps a complement of ) the traditional to add the concept of ‘why’ to the trio of con- scientific, reductionist approach to organizations. structs that are used as the starting point of a It is a systems approach recognizing the benefits strategic effort. That is, the why refers to the of a holistic view of organizations (see Lawrence logic that ties the economic logic, the organiza- 1999; Liedtka 1998). This is in line with what tional logic and the core processes together to Beckhard and Pritchard (1992) say is the appro- create value for the firm or society (see Sanchez priate stance to engage in a fundamental change 2004). So we see that strategic thinking involves strategy for an organization; that is, to challenge strategic logic, but perhaps a logic that is more the ideas of control and stability while embracing holistic in nature. the internal and external context of the organiza- Strategic thinking is understanding that the tion and the organizational work. Sanders (1998) world may not always work in linear, methodical adds to the discussion by explicitly linking strate- ways – that organizations and those working gic thinking to systems thinking as informed by within them must become agile, flexible, relation- the science of complexity and her notion of ship-savvy and wise as they continually adapt futurescape. Stacey (1992 in Lawrence 1999: 4) plans to meet emergent, even, ambiguous situa- also offers that strategic thinking is ‘using analo- 22 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  7. 7. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it gies and qualitative similarities to develop cre- FIVE FOUNDATION CONCEPTS ative new ideas…(and) designing actions on the Part of the enduring appeal of strategic planning basis of new learning.’ Such an holistic and non- is that many may feel they do not have a handle linear perspective to strategic thinking is funda- on the entire picture of the organization or its mental to the Why-What-How approach situation. To cope with that discomfort, the because it provides current and future views of usual tack is to take on the immediate and criti- organizational life while grounding us at the cal, the tactical so to speak. Planning out such same time into a bounded set of meaningful tactical processes and steps is good, practical organizational values and activity. management. Furthermore, to such planners, Basically, we need to comprehend why things worrying about what might come next is not operate the way they do and we need to under- only ‘impractical’ it is a time consuming effort. stand that organizational wisdom comes not Besides, how can you know? Such worrying and from programming and prediction, but rather work does not lend itself to traditional scientific, from an understanding of human motivations, predictable approaches. formal and informal organizational values, cul- It does, however, lend itself to new, holistic ture, and inter-and intra-organizational relation- approaches that the Why-What-How approach ships. With a firmer grasp of the Whys of social hints at. While more refined definitions of strate- and organizational interaction, we then can have gic thinking are still emerging, the main focus a clearer picture of what we should, could, can, usually remains on the goals or outcomes of the and cannot do, within those contexts. In fact, it organization. Even in the systems approach, is a process of defining the values and culture, strategic thinking is compared to a disciplined organizational paradigms, and purposes of an approach to thinking about the outcomes of an organization (sometimes an effort fraught with organization and the relationships inherent discomfort). amongst the many parts of the organizations. No However, those Whats become much more matter how important focusing on goals, out- meaningful in terms of shaping individual and comes, and processes is, strategic thinking must organizational behavior, because they are based be founded on more basic (at least very different) on individual and organizational values. From principles if it is to be distinct from planning. there, the Hows are more informed, more realis- More fundamental than goals and outcomes are tic, taking into account the qualitative as well as concepts like purpose, meaning, and values. the quantitative aspects of action planning. In a When people in organizations are clear about sense, we in organizations are bounded by a their real (not apparent) values commitments, vision field that makes sense of our current and their purpose and meaning, they can then begin future potential, while keeping us identifiable to see why their goals and outcomes are either and sustainable as a distinct organization with sensible or incongruent. They also begin to see if specific purposes, values, and goals. This their actions are reasonable, time-bound, or too approach requires a focus on relationships, lever- inflexible. Starting with goals does not allow us age points, and outcome measures of success to determine if the goals are valid or proper, nor rather than concrete milestones, step-by-step if the subsequent actions planned to achieve procedures, and statistical reports (see Malmberg those goals will work as dictated. Values and pur- 1999; Weinberg 1996). It, therefore, requires dif- pose become the measuring rod and the criteria ferent sets of leadership skills and techniques to determine the efficacy of any goals, outcome, than some management tenets would dictate (see formal or informal process, or activity. The orga- Fairholm 2004b; Wheatley 1999; Parry & Proc- nizational skin and bones that are goals and out- tor-Thomson 2001). comes become enlivened by and infused with Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 23
  8. 8. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card organizational soul which are the values, vision, Technical expertise is the life blood of a well- and underlying reasons for being. It is these managed organization. However, organizational ‘mystery systems’ (Herzberg 1984) of organiza- philosophy is the lifeblood of a well-lead organi- tions that we are after. And it is fundamentally zation. The difference is stark. Strategic thinkers different from (though fundamentally related to) are organizational philosophers and generalists the outward system that is characterized by who overcome certain technical limitations to see organization charts, performance measurement the broad context of their work and, therefore, plans, and budget documents. Strategic planning better achieve wise, meaningful organizational works on the skin and bones; strategic thinking results. Leaders, through formal positional works on organizational soul. authority or through the maneuvering of person- Below are five statements about strategic al power, must shed their technical training and thinking that begin to help us focus on the val- devote themselves whole-heartedly to the work ues, vision, relationships and feel of organiza- of organizational generalists. The skills of a gen- tional life. To think strategically one must: eralist, however, are underemphasized in most graduate and development programs (and many 1. View oneself as an organizational philosopher promotional reviews). Hence, people best poised more than as a technical expert. Philosophy is to exert strong leadership toward achieving not a word often associated with hard-nosed important organizational goals, rely on technical practitioners. While traditional philosophers skills that may not get them there. think about the grand ideas of life and living, Strategic thinkers (or organizational philoso- organizational philosophers devote much effort phers) ask important questions and integrate the in untangling the complexities of life within answers. What is the purpose of the organiza- organizations. Organizational philosophers love tion? Why does it exist? Where did it come to learn about their organizations, the grander from? Why is it here? What might make it go contexts in which they operate, the interactions away and what happens to the people and to the within the organization structure, be it formal or original reason for being if the organization does informal, and they foster continual organiza- cease to exist? What makes life in the organiza- tional learning – the stuff of organizational wis- tion meaningful? How does the organization fit dom. Charles Handy (1995), a philosopher into the grand scheme of other organizations? Is turned organizational consultant asserts that the formal structure of the organization indica- there is no one way to manage an organization – tive of the realities of organizational involvement it is much more a creative and political process or do the informal structures and networks better than many expect. Organizational philosophers define the organization’s character, values, and want to know how it all works and see the pat- culture? These and others are essential questions. terns of collective action inherent in the culture They are what real strategic thinking consists of, and traditions of the organization so they can because they give us a clearer vision of the Whys influence the collective towards the wisest use of of organizational life so the Whats and Hows resources and the wisest relationships amongst make more sense and are more efficacious. the people. In this sense the much talked about For example, people in a particular local gov- ‘learning organization’ (see Senge 1990; Vaill ernment permitting office saw themselves tradi- 1996) can only take place if the organization tionally as engineers, inspectors, and ‘paper and people within it engage in some sort of pushers.’ Their mission was clear and routine. philosophical review of what they are doing, When asked to be a part of the economic devel- why they are doing it, and what they could or opment activities and begin outreach to cus- should be doing. tomers and start a ‘building ambassador’ 24 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  9. 9. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it program, they saw no sense in it. The tasks they functions charged with doing the activities. were now asked to perform were not only foreign Strategic thinking integrates organizational activ- to them, they were contrary to what they had ity and planning in such a way as they both been doing for years. The skill sets and sense of inform each other. Third is the fallacy of formal- purpose they had developed over time did not ization, which suggests that through sound match up to the new direction of the organiza- analysis, the creation of logical procedures, and tion. Frustration, confusion, and setbacks were the implementation of specific tactical control, the norm. Strategic thinkers would understand we can normalize and make repetitive most if not that changing tasks alone is insufficient to achiev- all organizational activities to achieve routine ing a real programmatic shift. They would see the organizational outcomes. However, experience big picture and help people repaint it so that the suggests that such control is more of a dream new tasks fit and the new purpose made sense. than reality. Reality tells us that anomalies, the fickleness of human behavior, and the limitations 2. Distinguish strategic planning from strategic of analysis play a significant factor in organiza- thinking. Fundamentally, strategic thinkers tional outcomes and to disregard them is risky make a real conceptual distinction between and leads to incomplete planning. strategy and tactics, thinking and planning. What strategic thinking demands, then, is the They recognize a real difference between the ability to synthesize rather than analyze, and the How approach and the Why-What-How focused attention to comprehend and internalize approach and they operate based on the distinc- the formal and informal functions of the organi- tion. They come at the need for thinking and zation. This allows for flexibility, innovation, and planning from very different places. Strategic creativity to be as important if not more so than planning to them is about control, prediction, procedure and routine. The differences between analysis, and programming. Strategic thinkers, traditional planning and strategic thinking however, recognize different foundational skills become more readily apparent when we consider that revolve around understanding, synthesis, these fallacies and the mindset needed to over- and the inherent independence of external and come them. internal organizational actors. Strategic thinkers apply the lessons learned 3. Adopt a values, vision, and vector orientation from Mintzberg’s (1994) three inherent fallacies rather than a goals, objectives, metrics mentality. of traditional planning. First is the fallacy of pre- Strategic planning relies heavily on concepts such diction, the assumption that we can actually con- as mission, objectives, key result areas, long and trol events through a formalized process that short-term goals, metrics, performance measure- involved people engaged in creative or even rou- ments, action plans, and tactics. These are terms tine work. Strategic thinking recognizes that essential to good management of the organiza- more ambiguity exists in organizational life than tion, but they are also concepts that reflect many management has previously been willing to of the false assumptions found in the fallacies admit. Second is the fallacy of detachment, listed above, such as the ability to control and which assumes we can separate the planning predict and the flawlessness of analysis and pro- from the doing. There is still a persistent notion cedure. But management as an organizational that we can plan something detached from the technology demands such assumptions because it experience of doing it. The starkest example of does demand control and predictability. Perhaps such detachment is having stand alone planning this is where it is easiest to see why strategic departments charged with programming organi- thinking is linked more to leadership as an orga- zational actions that are totally separate from line nizational technology than it is to management. Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 25
  10. 10. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card A simple way to view management is to use a planning and programming, organizations by pneumonic popularized by Gulick (1937): POS- necessity assume different foundations to organi- DCoRB, which stands for planning, organizing, zational activity. Some writers apply new science staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and concepts to the work of organizational life and budgeting. These activities or functions are thus clarify these new foundations. One useful essential to good management and lead to goals, idea is that each organization is unique and clear- objectives, metrics, and accountability. But lead- ly bounded in its scope and purpose, yet at the ership is linked more to holistic, philosophical same time is constantly in interaction with out- notions that help the organization not to be side forces. The trick is to make sure the organi- accountable per se (meaning able to be account- zation can maintain its identifiable nature over ed for), but rather responsible (meaning able to time while also allowing environmental condi- respond and to be responsive). tions to effect it (see Goldstein 1994; Wheatley A simple way to view leadership is to use the 1999). Strategic thinking in this sense is about Four V’s conception where each V stands for a maintaining organizations as identifiable entities critical concept in the technology of leadership over time, while changing and adapting to meet (see Fairholm 2004c). The fours Vs explain that future demands. values trigger behavior and reflect meaning, pur- Seeing information as the lifeblood of an pose, and commitment of both leader and led. organization is the key to success in this strategic Visions operationalize the values set; making thinking activity (Wheatley 1999). Rather than sense for others what the values really mean or restrict and control information coming from what they can do for us now and in the future. within and without an organization (as strategic Vectors operationalize the magnitude and direc- planners are wont to do), leaders must recognize tion of vision-driven action and are akin to the the importance of free and easy access to infor- idea of group missions. Voice is shorthand for mation. In this way, information can serve a self- that which makes the leadership relationship organizing and evolutionary purpose for an work – the nature of the interaction (or lack organization. The strategic thinking goals are thereof ) between leader and led – and empha- thus grounded in the notion that leaders must sizes the notion that the leadership relationship is share information with and receive information essentially a voluntary one based on the level of from others. By thus doing, the order and self- alignment with the values, vision, and vector at organizing benefits are unleashed and obviate the play. These notions of the leadership phenome- need for strict control measures. non are essentially what strategic thinkers focus For information to play this critical role three on because these notions help us figure out the organizational skills or activities are essential to Whys and Whats of organizational life; it is the both the strategic thinking process itself and in pre-work to strategic planning which ultimately the strategic objectives that emerge. The first is leads to specific managerial tasks. In sum, the the idea of feedback and feedback loops – a dia- reliance on and prioritization of values are the log between the internal organizational environ- main things that drive strategic thinking, where- ment and the external environment with as the achievement of goals and the control of appropriate time for such interaction to take actionable events drive strategic planning. place in some stable way (see Goldstein 1994; Harman 1998). Such feedback is essential for a 4. Concentrate on the flow of information and continual assessment of the viability and integri- the quality of relationships that emerge rather ty of the system. If information is freely available than the control of information. By letting go of then honest assessments can be made and order the control and prediction mentality of strategic can be maintained. The second activity is that 26 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  11. 11. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it leaders must focus on relationships. If informa- Three main ideas may help leaders think tion is the lifeblood of organizations, then the strategically as they find comfort amid uncertain- arteries and veins through which the information ty and use this ambiguity for the benefit of the flow are relationships. The strategic thinker rec- organization and its people. First, leaders need to ognizes that an organization differs from a mere put their heads above the flux and see the contra- collection of individuals in that the parts have an dictions that are shaping organizational life even influence on each other (Stumpf 1996). They while they are actively engaged in that organiza- understand that people are the ‘parts’ of their tional life (Morgan 1998). Second, strategic organization and that relationships among peo- thinkers understand the need for innovation but ple are the essential building blocks of a flexible also recognize that innovation creates the seeds of and sustainable organization. This demands the its own downfall by creating future areas of com- development of trust, the third skill and activity petition and shaping the need for future innova- to enhance self-organizing strategic thinking. For tion in response to the current innovative leaders truly to lead (i.e., think strategically) they climate. As Morgan (1998: 252) describes it, an need an environment characterized by mutual organization must be willing to ‘innovate in ways trust within which the quality of relationships that will undermine current success so that new and interpersonal interactions is harmonious and innovation can emerge.’ This concept suggests a united (Fairholm & Fairholm 2000; Kouzes & fundamental idea that organizational equilibrium Posner 1993). Such a culture provides both (the ultimate goals of planning) is undesirable in leader and follower with a context in which each an uncertain world compared to progress and can be free to trust the purposes, actions, and development. Third, strategic thinkers see all intent of others and further the goals of the change (and innovation) as people change. People organization. Culture (the natural catalyst and in positions of authority are adept at planning result of strategic thinking), then, more than and executing organizational change plans. Gain- structure (the goal of planning), may be the key ing an understanding of how people cope with to solving organizational problems and the key change allows leaders to remain confident and to creating new organizations that can cope with comfortable amid the various possible individual the complexities of today’s organizations (see and organizational reactions. Thinking strategi- Parry & Proctor-Thomson 2001). cally about individual and group transitions allows leaders to cope with the uncertainties of 5. Learn to accept and work with ambiguity and organizational change and help followers place the qualitative nature of organizations, rather the transitions (see Bridges 1991) they are expe- than try to control and quantify all organiza- riencing in productive, rather than disruptive, tional endeavors. Organizational theory is just contexts. beginning to describe the powerful impact of recognizing, not certainties and predictions, but Different strategic emphases aligned with dif- preferences and principles (Gabriel 1998; Weis- ferent leadership perspectives. Strategic plan- bord 1987). Trying to control what may be ning and strategic thinking have long been inherently uncontrollable (people involved in assumed to be functions and responsibilities of processes and organizations) is perhaps an orga- leadership. As has been discussed, there are, how- nizational stance devoid of maturity and wis- ever, varying definitions and practices of strategic dom. A comfort with ambiguity emerges as planning/thinking. Much of the differences in leaders learn to ask the right questions – accept- strategy hinges on the relative emphasis given to ing their limited perspective while seeking to controlling, guiding, or shaping the organiza- gain a higher one. tional environment. Each perspective on strategy Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 27
  12. 12. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card presupposes certain assumptions about the task Leadership as a Values Displacement Activity, defin- of leadership. One way then to grapple with the ing leadership as a relationship between leader differences (and similarities) between strategic and follower that allows for typical management thinking and leadership is to uncover what cer- objectives to be achieved primarily via shared val- tain perspectives of leadership emphasize in the ues, not merely direction and control. Leadership ‘strategic’ process. Fairholm (2004a) offers a clas- success is dependent more on values and shared sification of five leadership perspectives culled vision than it is on organizational authority, and from researching the practice of local govern- therefore, this perspective assumes the strategic ment managers. Using the five perspectives of thinking involves prioritizing other people’s val- leadership combined with specific assumptions ues so they support and implement organization- of strategy, better links to potential activities of al goals. In this way it assumes strategic thinking leadership emerge to help clarify this notion of is about influencing chaos (thus shaping how strategic thinking in its many forms. Table 2 organizational actors participate) rather than try- summarizes how the different strategic approach- ing to control it. The fourth perspective is Leader- es, terms, perspectives of leadership, and types of ship in a Trust Culture, which emphasizes teams, organizational work needed relate to each other. culture, and mutual trust between leader and fol- The first leadership perspective is Leadership as lower which are the methods leaders use to insti- (Scientific) Management wherein much emphasis tutionalize their values. The leader’s goal (and is placed on managers understanding the one best related activity) is to encourage and maintain way to promote and maintain productivity mutual trust so people act wisely and independ- amongst the employee ranks. The underlying ently to achieve mutual goals, and so this perspec- strategic assumption is strategic planning for effi- tive assumes a systems approach and focuses on ciency, because organizations and their leaders embracing chaos – using it to create the environ- need to control chaos so that predictable, verifi- ment to achieve desired ends. The last perspec- able, and routinizable processes and outputs are tive is Whole Soul (Spiritual) Leadership, which the norm. The second perspective is Leadership as assumes that people have only one ‘spirit’ that Excellence Management, which assumes, like the manifests itself in both professional and personal one above, that leaders should control chaos, but lives and that the activity of leadership engages focus is rather on process improvement and individuals at this core level. Squarely in the non- employee participation to assist in developing control camp, this perspective emphasizes strate- strategic plans to control the organizational chaos gic thinking to develop the best in others so they and disorder. This perspective emphasizes strate- lead themselves (and others) in appropriate direc- gic planning to improve processes to enhance cus- tions to achieve appropriate ends. It is perhaps tomer satisfaction. The third perspective is the ultimate manifestation of embracing the TABLE 2: C OMPARISON OF STRATEGIC PLANNING / THINKING APPROACHES Most Appropriate Control-Chaos Main Type Approach Term Continuum Leadership Perspective Strategic Work How Strategic Planning Control Chaos Scientific Management Technical What-How Strategic Planning Control Chaos Excellence Management Technical What-Why-How Strategic Planning Influence Chaos Values Leadership and/or Technical and and/or Strategic Trust Cultural Leadership Philosophical Thinking Why-What-How Strategic Thinking Embrace Chaos Trust Cultural Leadership and/or Whole Soul Leadership Philosophical 28 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009
  13. 13. Perspectives of strategic thinking: From controlling chaos to embracing it inherent order in apparent chaos in the strategic Birnbaum B (2004) Strategic thinking: A four piece thinking approach. puzzle, Costa Mesa CA: Douglas Mountain. Bridges W (1991) Managing transitions: Making the most of change, New York: Addison Wesley. CONCLUSION Fairholm MR (2004a) Different perspectives on the Organizational effectiveness can only truly be con- practice of leadership, Public Administration sidered if we focus on both quantitative measures Review 64(5): 577-590. of success of actions properly linked to each other Fairholm MR (2004b) A new sciences outline for to achieve important goals AND the qualitative leadership development, Leadership and Organiz- ational Development Journal 25(4): 369-383. measures inherent in the organization’s sense of Fairholm MR (2004c) Values, vision, vector, and voice: values, purpose, meaning, and vision. Strategic Distinguishing authentic leadership perspectives, thinking and leadership takes place most impor- Paper presented at the UNL Gallup Leadership tantly at the latter level and then works hard to Institute Summit, Omaha NE, June 10-12. link the organizational soul to a body that is right- Fairholm MR and Fairholm G (2000) Leadership ly fit together by organizational managers and amid the constraints of trust, Leadership and Organizational Development Journal 21(2): planners. Such recognition of different perspec- 102-109. tives of strategy is essential for government man- Forrester J W (1971) The counterintuitive behavior agers who have to deal with managing resources of social systems. Technology Review 73(3): 52–68. and delivering services. It is essential, too, for gov- Frost PJ and Egri CJ (1990) Appreciating executive ernment managers who see their profession as also action, in Srivastva S and Cooperrider DL (eds) Appreciative management and leadership: The power dealing with the strategic building of community. of positive thought and action in organizations, pp. 289-323, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. References Grant R (1993) Resource Based Theory of Abell DF (1980) Defining the Business: The Starting Competitive Advantage: Implications for Point of Strategic Planning, Englewood Cliffs NJ: Strategy Formulation, California Management Prentice Hall. Review 33(3) cited in Costin H (1998) Readings Abraham S (2005) Stretching Strategic Thinking, in Strategy and Strategic Planning, pp. 291-309 Strategy and Leadership 33(5): 5-12. New York: Dryden. Abramson MA (1996) In search of the new Gabriel Y (1998) The hubris of management, leadership, Government Executive 28(9): 9-13. Administrative Theory and Praxis 20(3): 257-271. Alford J (2002) Defining the client in the public Goldstein J (1994) The unshackled organization, sector: a social-exchange perspective, Public Portland OR: Productivity Press. Administration Review 62(3): 337-346. Gulick L (1937) Notes of the theory of Allio RJ (2006) Strategic thinking: the ten big organization, in Gulick L and Urwick L (eds) ideas, Strategy & Leadership 34(4): 4-13. Papers on the science of administration pp 3-13, Atwater J B, Kanna VR and Stephens AA (2008) Institute of Public Administration, New York. Cultivating Systemic Thinking in the Next Hamel G and Prahalad CK (1989) Strategy intent, Generation of Business Leaders, Academy of Harvard Business Review 3: 63-76. Management: Learning and Education 7(1): 9-25. Handy, C (1995) The gods of management: the Barney J (1995) Looking inside for Competitive changing work of management, New York and Advantrage, Academy of Management Executive Oxford: Oxford University Press. 9(4): 49-61. Harman W (1998) Global mind change: The Barney J (1997) Gaining and Sustaining Competit- promise of the 21st century (2nd edn), San ive Advantage, Reading MA: Addison Wesley. Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Beckhard R and Pritchard W (1992) Changing the Herzberg F (1984) Mystery systems shape loyalties, essence: The art of creating and leading fundamental Industry Week, 12 November:101-104. change in organizations, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Hunter P and O’Shannassy T (2007) Modern Berry FS (1994) Innovation in public management: strategic management practice: Practice Lagging The adoption of strategic planning, Public Research in the 2000s, Singapore Management Administration Review 54(4): 322-330. Review 29(2): 21-36. Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION 29
  14. 14. Matthew R Fairholm and Michael Card Internal Revenue Service US (2001) Leadership Sanchez R and Heene A (2004) The New Strategic competency mode, US Internal Revenue Service, Management, Wiley, New York. Washington DC. Sanders TI (1998) Strategic thinking and the new Jenkins M and Backoff R (1985) The Lens Model science: planning in the midst of chaos complexity of Strategic Management, MR/DD Quarterly and change, Free Press, New York. January: 1-8. Senge P (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The art and Key Leadership Competencies, Government of practice of the learning organization, Doubleday, Canada, 22 May 2008, http://www.psagency- New York. Shelton CK and Darling JR (2001) The quantum Kouzes J and Posner B (1993) The credibility skills model in management: a new paradigm to factor, The Healthcare Forum 36(4): 16-21. enhance effective leadership, Leadership and Org- Lawrence E (1999) Strategic thinking: A discussion paper, anizational Development Journal 22(6): 264-273. Ottowa Personnel Development and Resourcing Stacey R (1992) Managing the unknowable, Jossey- Group, Public Service Commission of Canada. Bass, San Francisco. Liedtka J (1998) Linking strategic thinking with Stumpf SA (1996) Applying new science theories strategic planning, Strategy and Leadership 1(10): in leadership development activities, Journal of 120-129. Management 14(5): 39-49. Malmberg KB (1999) A vision for the future: The Tan VSL (2000) Develop strategic thinking skills, practice of leading in the federal workplace. Paper retrieved January 1, 2005, from http://adtimes. presented at the American Society for Public Administration, Orlando FL. Vaill P (1996) Learning as a way of being: Strategies Mintzberg H (1994) The fall and rise of strategic for survival in a world of permanent white water, planning, Harvard Business Review 1: 107-114. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Moore MH (1995) Creating public value: strategic Weinberg L (1996) Seeing through organization: management in government. Harvard University Exploring the constitutive quality of social Press, Cambridge Mass. relations, Administration & Society 28(2): 117-124. Morgan G (1998) Images of organization: The Weisbord MR (1987) Productive workplaces: executive edition, San Francisco CA: Berrett- Organizing and managing for dignity, meaning, Koehler Publishers. and community, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Oster SM (1999) Modern Competitive Analysis (3rd Wheatley MJ (1992/1999) Leadership and the new ed) Oxford Press, New York. science: learning about organization from an ParryK and Proctor-Thomson SB (2003) orderly universe, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco. Leadership, Culture and Performance: The Case Whitlock JL (2003) Strategic thinking, planning, of the New Zealand Public Sector, Journal of and doing: How to reunite leadership and Change Management 3(4): 376-399. management to connect vision with action. Paper Personnel Decisions International Corporation (2001) presented at the American Society for Public Management/Supervisory competencies, Inter- Administration 64th Annual Conference, March American Development Bank, Washington, DC. 15-18, Washington DC. Porter ME (1980) Competitive strategy, Free Press, Wilson I (1994) Strategic planning isn’t dead - it New York changed, Long Range Planning 27(4): 12-16. Porter ME (1985) Competitive advantage: creating Wootton S and Horne T (2002) Strategic thinking: and sustaining superior performance, Free Press, A step-by-step approach to strategy, (2nd edn) New York. Kogan Page, Dover NH. Saloner G, Shepard A and Podolny J (2001) Strategic Management, Wiley, New York. Received 7 February 2007 Accepted 15 October 2008 C A L L F O R P A P E R S S TA B I L I T Y AND CH A N G E : M A N A G I N G THE TENSIONS Special issue of Journal of Management & Organization – Guest edited by Stephane Tywoniak and Jennifer Bartlett Deadline for Papers: 30 August 2009. ISBN 978-1-921348-50-1. Pub. Sept. 2010 as Vol 16/4. eContent Management Pty Ltd, PO Box 1027, Maleny QLD 4552, Australia Tel.: +61-7-5435-2900; Fax. +61-7-5435-2911; 30 JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATION Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2009