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Organization vs Strategy

Organization vs Strategy

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Published by: api-3694011 on Oct 17, 2008
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by Jeffrey W. Bennett,
Thomas E. Pernsteiner,
Paul F. Kocourek, and
Steven B. Hedlund

Solving the
It\u2019s not vision that makes a company
successful. What sets the top performers
apart is the organizational models they
develop to realize their aspirations.
\u201cThere are few original strategies in banking,\u201d
Sir John Bond, the chairman of HSBC Holdings PLC,
said earlier this year. \u201cThere\u2019s only execution.\u201d

Although he was more direct than most corporate leaders, Sir John was articulating a feeling that is not uncommon among them. Senior executives at many \u2014 perhaps most \u2014 large companies routinely af\ufb01rm, gener- ally privately, that it is not the lack of a strategy that caus- es them to lose sleep, but rather their organization\u2019s inabil- ity to execute against a strategy, often long after they think they have expressed that strategy with near-perfect clarity.

Their nervousness is understandable.For tune maga- zine estimated recently that about 70 percent of CEO failures are caused primarily not by \ufb02awed strategic think- ing, but by failure to execute.

Consider the number of chief executives who are dis- missed because of disappointing results unrelated to any major strategic move. Then consider how small the num- ber is of CEOs who have succeeded because of a strategic insight that allowed a company to break out of the pack. There are a few, but such breakouts are rare, occurring at most once per decade per industry.

For companies in mature industries in particular, there almost certainly is no silver bullet. As Sir John rec- ognized, in many industries the strategic challenge is rel- atively clear and well understood by all players. Nevertheless, these strategies by themselves often fail to markedly improve market and \ufb01nancial performance. In many cases, they actually hinder performance.

Yet in the \ufb01eld of management, strategy is exalted. Consultants in particular fall prey to the dei\ufb01cation of strategy. Rarely if ever do we ask ourselves the fundamen- tal questions that should begin each engagement \u2014 and, perhaps, take it to another level:

Why has a large organization composed of presumably smart individuals, who are much closer to the relevant products and customers than either senior management or the organization\u2019s consultants, not been able to implement the prior strategy successfully? And why do we believe the new strategy will be implemented more successfully?

hen you ask these ques- tions, it sends the search for improvement in an entirely different direc- tion. (It also requires humility, which some might argue is in short

supply among both sen- ior executives and consultants.) Contrary to the central premise of many strategy studies, it is usually not the vision or aspirations of a successful company that allow it to stand out; these goals \u2014 more market share, more innovative new products, lower costs, etc. \u2014 are typical- ly pretty similar for most \ufb01rms in an industry. What sets the top performers apart is the \u201chow\u201d \u2014 the way they organize and operate to realize their aspirations.

Thus the answer to \u201cWhy haven\u2019t we been able to do better?\u201d usually lies in the organization itself \u2014 or, more precisely, in the organizational model, our term for all the internal structures, frameworks, and operating practices that determine how work actually gets done in a compa- ny. (See Exhibit 1.)

Many of the issues that large \ufb01rms face are in fact symptoms of dynamic and complex problems embedded in the company\u2019s organizational model. Such problems are inherently dif\ufb01cult to resolve, because they are rooted in the economics of organizing, the complexity of which

Jeffrey W. Bennett

(bennett_jeffrey@bah.com) is a
vice president in the Consumer
and Health Group of Booz-Allen
& Hamilton, based in the firm\u2019s
Cleveland office. His recent work
focuses on issues at the intersec-
tion of strategy and organization,
primarily in consumer packaged
goods and consumer durables

Thomas E. Pernsteiner

is a principal in the Automotive,
Aerospace, and Industrials
Group of Booz-Allen &
Hamilton, based in the firm\u2019s
Cleveland office. Mr. Pernsteiner
works with clients in a variety of
industries on strategy and
performance improvement.

Paul F. Kocourek

(kocourek_paul@bah.com )
is a senior vice president in
Booz-Allen & Hamilton\u2019s
Organization and Strategic
Leadership Competency
Center. He focuses on strategic
transformation of companies
facing changes in the competi-
tive landscape or the regulatory

Steven B. Hedlund

(hedlund_steve@bah.com), a
principal in Booz-Allen &
Hamilton\u2019s Cleveland office and
a member of the Automotive,
Aerospace, and Industrials
Group, focuses on organization
design for automotive clients.


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