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Strategy is alive and well... and living in Uncertainty SUMMARY ARTICLE


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Many people claim that strategy is dead - overcome by the conditions of change and uncertainty. They prefer agility and quick response. But the obituary for strategy is premature - and is based on a series of false assumptions about strategy.
We outline how strategy is both necessary and valuable in conditions of uncertainty and change.
NOTE: This is a summary of the full article. See the FULL version at

Published in: Business
  • Hmmm. Some good thinking here. You might also want to look up David Maister's Fast Track Strategy approach as outlined in his book "Managing the professional services firm". Applicable beyond professional services, his approach addresses the "strategy is too slow, takes too long and is irrelevant as soon as it is finished" argument that the agile thinkers tout around. Large corporate strategy-setting is a ball-ache and we need to trash it. Small firms often do not do enough to generate strategy. Maister finds a third way, asking top team members to define specific actions they will take to further over-arching aims (aligned to things like customer, financial, process, team) over a short time frame. When you add these things together, you've got a strategy. This means knowing your organisational purpose and using balanced metrics. Simple strategic tools (SWOT, options analysis, scenarios) can quickly add to the rich picture. Here the strategy is emergent to fit the needs of the environment, but also action-oriented. Wave goodbye to long-winded strategy documents. Strategy is a leadership activity.
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Strategy is alive and well... and living in Uncertainty SUMMARY ARTICLE

  1. 1. A PREMATURE OBITUARY? Many pundits claim that strategy is dead and has no place in this uncertain and fast changing environment. They say it’s too slow and the outcomes are irrelevant as conditions change rapidly. Moreover, they argue, organisations should focus on being agile and concentrate on launching a series of short, sharp projects to respond to the changing environment. My view is that this short term perspective is based on three flawed assumptions about strategy. Why are these assumptions flawed? 1. Strategy is different to planning Planning is a process where we set specific objectives ahead of the time, and then focus on the steps and milestones to achieve these objectives. It is useful in a shorter timeframe where the conditions and constraints are relatively stable. Strategy, on the other hand, is an ongoing learning process where we seek to position the organisation within its operating environment. It is fluid and is concerned with a series of aims rather than specific objectives. It is NOT concerned with predicting or making assumptions about the future - but focuses on understanding the system within which the organisation operates, and identifying the various leverage points that might be used to advance the organisation’s position. 2. There is real payoff in developing strategy Recent research across several industry sectors shows that organisations involved in strategic conversations and setting (longer term) strategy consistently show superior economic and stakeholder performance. Moreover, the research shows that the cost of short term approaches (a focus on simply being responsive and reactive to changes in the environment) is that these organisations become fragmented and slowly erode the value of their resources. © Norman Chorn 2017 • • (612) 9999 5412 • Page 1 Dr Norman Chorn
  2. 2. 3. Agility is not a strategy Agility is not a strategy - it is a means of developing and executing a strategy. Indeed, high levels of agility without an underpinning strategy could lead to a more rapid fragmentation and degradation of organisational capabilities. A long-standing and robust typology of organisational styles is offered by Raymond Miles and Charles Snow in their description of organisations as: Repeated research shows that Reactors have the poorest performance of the types - and that they experience more failure and ‘corporate rescues’. (See the longer version of this article for further detail). EFFECTIVE STRATEGY IN UNCERTAINTY Three processes contribute to effective strategy in these conditions of change and uncertainty: 1. Build a rich picture A rich picture is a systems-view of the system of which the organisation is a part. It graphically represents the key elements in the system and their interdependencies; how and where the organisation interacts with the system; and the potential leverage points that can be used by the organisation to re-position itself. It is a key input into the next process - the strategic conversation. 2. Start a strategic conversation Strategy is a conversation inside the organisation. Like most conversations, it benefits from wide participation and a wide array of diverse perspectives. Strategic conversations are systems with several components: • An overall aim articulated by leadership • Presentations by leadership to “frame” the conversation • Executive blogs and posts • Online discussions and forums • Knowledge sharing platforms • Workshops, meetings and discussions to explore detail The strategic conversation provides an important input for the third process - the use of scenario thinking. Prospectors Predominant focus on exploring and exploiting new market and product opportunities Defenders Predominant focus on holding on and defending their traditional way of doing business Analysers Dual focus - majority focus on defending their traditional core business, and a secondary focus on exploring new opportunities Reactors Predominant emphasis on responding and reacting to opportunities without an overarching strategic focus. © Norman Chorn 2017 • • (612) 9999 5412 • Page 2
  3. 3. 3. Use scenario thinking Scenario thinking flips an issue that typically causes a logjam in strategy - an attempt to predict the future state of the environment. Rather than arguing about what the future holds, we focus on what the organisation will do in the event of a series of alternative futures. Scenario thinking makes two important distinctions: • We no longer focus on only one future - organisations face multiple futures in an uncertain environment • We are no longer concerned with predicting the future. We focus instead on understanding the capabilities required by the organisation to thrive in the range of alternative futures. Even if the range of alternative futures is wide, there will usually be a set of common capabilities required across them all. These then become the subject of capability development. By using the insights gathered through the strategic conversation, we generate a set of alternative futures faced by the organisation. The current business idea (value proposition, business model) is then wind- tunnelled in these different scenarios of the future. By embracing the uncertainty in the environment (instead of simply predicting a single set of operating conditions), we are able to create a more resilient organisation for the future. In addition, we are able to generate a series of innovative ideas that can enhance the strategy and capability of the organisation. STRATEGY IS ALIVE AND WELL Rather than being irrelevant in this fast changing environment - change and uncertainty are the very proving grounds for the real value of strategy. Rich pictures, strategic conversations and scenario thinking are three processes that can contribute to effective strategy for navigating through these times of uncertainty and change. This is a summary of the original paper. Download the full version here. ______________________________________________________________________ Dr Norman Chorn is a strategist and organisation development practitioner with the BrainLink Group. He uses principles of neuroscience to address the challenges of developing strategy in a complex and uncertain environment. His particular areas of focus are strategy in conditions of uncertainty; organisational and cultural alignment; and strategic leadership. Subscribe to our regular articles No spam guaranteed © Norman Chorn 2017 • • (612) 9999 5412 • Page 3