It’s like the story by Remi from ancient Persian literature. The story is about a group of people who encounter a strange object in complete darkness. Since the storyteller is in the dark himself, he cannot provide a clue about the object. All the efforts to identify the object by touching its different parts prove fruitless until someone arrives with a light. Rumi’s story shows that the ability to see the whole requires an enabling light in the form of a methodology or mental model.
A shared mental image is at the centre of any process for changing an organisation. This is why visions and strategic frameworks are so important. They provide the light. Getting a senior team together from different perspectives can be just as frustrating. The Marketing Manager sees it as a customer issue, while the Production Manager sees it as a product issue, and the Finance Manager sees it as a cash flow issue.
Starting with an analytical approach is equally frustrating and limiting. Here is what the Harvard Review article (Sept. 2012) said:, “Bring Science to the Art of Strategy” said:
“Strategic planners pride themselves on their rigor. Strategies are supposed to be driven by numbers and extensive analysis and uncontaminated by bias, judgment, or opinion. The larger the spreadsheets, the more confident an organization is in its process. All those numbers, all those analyses, feel scientific, and in the modern world, “scientific” equals “good.”
“Yet if that’s the case, why do the operations managers in most large and midsize firms dread the annual strategic planning ritual? Why does it consume so much time and have so little impact on company actions? Talk to those managers, and you will most likely uncover a deeper frustration: the sense that strategic planning does not produce novel strategies. Instead, it perpetuates the status quo.”
Two schools of thought
The Logic school of thought is by far the most common, however, on its own it is seriously lacking. It is based on several unspoken assumptions that are highly questionable:
- That you can create a powerful vision of the future after thinking extensively about the present. In my experience, thinking too deeply about the present tends to limit the possibilities considered for the vision.
- That analysts are the best people to drive the Strategic Process. In my experience Line Managers are far better drivers of strategy because they understand the issues and reality in the market place. They are also the people who must execute the strategies and therefore their ownership is vital. Managers do not have sufficient ownership or understanding when strategies are presented to them by analysts.
- That the ideas needed to create a winning strategy do not exist within the organisation and need to be imported from outside. In my experience this is simply untrue. I think it’s vital to have an outsider to lead the Process so they can challenge thinking that is not strategic or innovative enough; but I’ve found the content is always available from within.
Bruce Holland is the author of the book: Cracking Great Leaders Liberate Human Energy at Work and the supporting Program designed for other consultants who don’t have the skills or time to develop their own intellectual property.