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Strategic Management by Project

Group: Lessons Learned
Colin Hastings

Strategy: Problems We Hear

A NUMBER of years ago I asked a group of senior managers to outline the

problems that they experienced with the strategy process in their organizations.
There was a wide range of responses, but essentially they clustered into four
main groupings.

1. We have no strategy, we need one but we don't know how to

go about developing one

I call this the strategy development problem. It still seems extraordinary in this
age of sophisticated management development, that senior managers are saying
this. But it is still the reality, particularly where, as a result of delayering, we
have a younger generation of senior managers suddenly finding themselves
rapidly promoted up into board management strategic positions. These people
have survived the rat-race by being doers and suddenly find themselves having
to think strategically, having to think in the abstract, having to think long term.
They are struggling with the very idea of strategy itself, and finding that they
alone as a top team cannot comprehend all the complexity involved.

2. We have a strategy, but not everyone at the top agrees with it

This is the buy-in problem. It reveals the conflicts that often take place at senior
team or board levels where either a strong autocratic CEO or a strong visionary
may dominate the top team and bulldoze a strategy through. Another version
of this is the visionary who has all the strategy worked out in his or her head
but finds it very difficult to communicate it to the rest of the board. This kind
of person is always six steps ahead of those surrounding them. This is also a
problem where there are the vestiges of central corporate planning departments

Y. Boshyk (ed.), Business Driven Action Learning
© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000
170 Business Driven Action Learning

who develop very clear and admirable strategies but often do it in isolation from
the rest of the organization.

3. The Board has an agreed strategy, but no one else understands it

This is the communication problem. It raises the whole issue of how you get
the wider organization on board with understanding strategy and understanding
their role and contribution to implementing it. It begs the questions of what
processes are required to achieve that. In my judgement, whatever the type of
strategy implementation that is required, whether it is a crisis driven one where
somebody comes in to force the organization in a new direction, or whether it
is a more participative one, at some point in time you are going to need a process
where you engage the wider organization with the nature of the strategy and its

4. Everyone understands the new strategy, but nothing is


This is the implementation problem. Too often the top team is very clear about
what needs doing and they assume simply by communicating this that it will
happen. Not so. A visionary client of mine, ruefully reflecting o the lack of
progress in implementing his strategy, showed a remarkable degree of insight
when he said of himself T think, therefore it is'. There is a large amount that
needs to be done to help the implementers turn the concepts into reality.

N e w Challenges - t h e Goals of t h e Strategic

M a n a g e m e n t Process

The nature of the environment in which modern organizations are working was
graphically summarized for me on a wall poster in an office in a major
international organization. It read 'this is to notify you that the light at the end
of the tunnel has been permanently switched off!' Most people in most
organizations feel at times that they are handling huge amounts of complexity,
ambiguity and uncertainty. And yet at the same time, they are expected
constantly to sustain competitive advantage, to build increasingly rapid speed
of response, to innovate continuously, to attract, develop and retain talented
people and to win their commitment. These are huge challenges indeed and a
strategy process has to be able to cope with them. In my experience a clearly
defined strategy process, based on the use of carefully constructed and guided
project teams, involving significant numbers of people across the organization,