Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Strategy research - listen

If you have had a nosey around this blog or my other one on working towards a PhD you will be aware that I'm researching strategy, more exactly how good, competent strategists gain the experience and skills they use when they think, act and make decision strategically.

To do this I have spent the last three months zipping here and there interviewing strategists who were recommended to me and it has been a fascinating journey and the results are nothing like you would expect.  I'm not ready to announce exactly what the results are yet as I'm just at the beginning of the analysis but as I gain a greater understanding of the material I'll happily share the insights, probably in publications first.

One insight I'm happy to share is that from what I've heard strategists do an awful lot of listening and not a whole lot of talking.  If strategists you deal with already have all the answers that is a massive red flashing light. The most clever people I interviewed clearly valued others opinions highly and sought them out as opposed to hiding in a corner office and sending out the strategy like Moses from the mountain.

People in your business know a lot of valuable stuff and the real trick is to create solid relationships built on trust to get that information into the thinking processes.......

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beware strategy tools

I'm still not exactly sure what i will find when I finish my research on 'competent' strategists but from a pretty long and in-depth immersion in the literature I doubt I'm going to find that they all heavily rely on the strategic management tools that have been taught since the 1980's.

And certainly it isn't the case that they don't have a place as they absolutely do but they need to be used in association with good, critical thinking  and not a substitute for it.

By way of analogy (I love analogies) you can think of the strategy tools as the tools that a yachting crew have available to them when they are sailing in a competition.  They may have weather and sea forecasts, local knowledge of area, tools for working out how fast other boats are going and any number of other tools at their disposal.  BUT........  At the end of all that the decision has not been made until a human being decides what all that means and what we need to do about it.

The tools provide clues and queues but they are aspects of the thinking process and not the thinking process it self.  I believe that too much strategy teaching infers that their is a right answer and if you apply the appropriate tools then the answer will be self-evident (i.e. no thinking required) and that is just wrong.

The method of teaching itself - the case study - leaves this impression as we know what the right answer is and therefore it should have been able to be seen at the time if those involved could only apply the correct techniques - again this logic is just plain wonky.

So beware strategists bearing tools, they are Greeks bearing gifts............

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strategy information

There is an absolute truckload of books, journal articles and magazines dedicated to strategic management and strategic planning.  This is quite interesting as it seems most of the great minds in the area recognise that we don't actually know that much about strategy let alone how to do it well.

Why so much stuff, because it sells.......

There seems to be an insatiable demand for literature on the subject and plenty of authors happy to meet this need.  Just stick "strategic planning" (in quotes) into the book section of Amazon and how many hits are there in the business and investing section?  I'll tell you because I have just done it a jaw dropping 19,013!!!!!!!!!

Out of curiosity lets look at some other notable areas:

  • strategy - 33,858
  • "strategic planning" - 15,140
  • "performance management" - 1,662
  • governance - 7,629
  • "project management" - 6,088
  • marketing - 427,950 (WTF?????????)
  • leadership - 25,316
  • Accounting 101,526
To be absolutely honest I'm not sure what that piece of quick and dirty research tells us, maybe that publishing a book on marketing is the way to get your toe in authoring business.  Also the more an area is subjective the more opportunity there is to peddle the 'right' answer.  Accounting being the exception but all business have to do accounting properly thanks mainly to the tax laws so that maybe related to compliance.

There are plenty of strategy books telling us the right way to do it to get the right answer yet there is no right answer, it just is not possible.
‘Strategic decisions involve analytic approaches that are different from those presented by other business functions—in particular, strategic decisions are not amenable to solution by algorithm, no matter how complex or sophisticated’[italics added]’ (Grant, 2008).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Strategic everything equals strategic nothing

Business is now awash with strategy and almost none of it has anything thing to do with strategy.  The word strategy or strategic is just put at the front of existing terms to make them sound mystic and important and it is all basically bollocks.  Goodness knows it is rare enough to find actual strategy rather than check box exercises or the annual rewrite of the mission, vision and values (and I'll return to organisational values in another blog soon as that is an interesting aside).

This morning on the business news site I subscribe to I saw the following headline -
APN New & Media, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, has appointed Deutsche Bank to undertake a strategic review of its media assets.
If we take the word strategic out we have -
APN New & Media, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, has appointed Deutsche Bank to undertake a review of its media asset
And so the question is of course what is the point of the word strategic except to make it sound important and justify the appointment of very expensive consultants.

Unfortunately if this was an isolated example it would be interesting but when I saw this it was the straw that broke my blogging back and I just had to write about it as the business community is now inundated with strategic everything.  I went to Google news and typed strategic business and this is what the headlines (all from the last 9 hours) say:

  • Harnessing Strategic Business Growth
  • APN undertakes strategic review of its NZ assets
  • While we have already taken significant strategic steps to transition our business to the new digital media landscape, we are excited about the financial ...
  • The first in the industry to link both business strategy and portfolio strategy with transaction management and execution, PortfolioCommand(SM) combines ...
  • Supertankers Delayed in China as Nation Fills Strategic Reserves
  • Bar Harbor Bankshares Announces Strategic Acquisition of Border ...
  • The company selected GlobalEnglish after an exhaustive search for a strategic communications partner capable of providing a global, scalable solution that ...
Admittedly a couple of those stories are strategic but the rest use the term for aggrandisement and the bottom line is the word is now generically used instead of the word 'important' when it needs to be used at all.  

I plan to double my charge out rate as a consultant in the future as I no longer plan to read anything, I will be strategically reviewing documents.......

Friday, April 6, 2012

The importance of knowing what you don't know

Being an expert and knowing a great deal about a subject area is an advantage, a big advantage.  In business you may know a lot about accounting (if you're unlucky) or law and you can both use this to advantage in your own company as well as for others as a director/advisor/consultant.

It is stating the obvious however that an expert in one area is not therefore an expert in all areas.  It does beg the question why we ask our accountant or lawyer for advice on business in general.  Especially accountants who have somehow become seen as more general business advisor's when they remain a limited expert in one area only, an area that faces towards the past and not importantly the future.

Letting that go for a minute, I think what is very important is to know what you don't know in areas of business that we sometimes think wrongly are more like common-sense.  Marketing and branding, human resources, IT and (god forbid but yes) strategy and governance are just a few examples where people often like to have a go rather than get someone who actually knows what they are doing.

The problem is that we can't know how badly (or well I suppose) we have done because we can't turn the clock back and see what would have happened if we had actually paid for someone to do the job properly or at the very least provide us a little bit of advice and at least get us pointing in the right direction.  By not using experts we think we are saving money and the only way this logic works is that we have to assume that the expertise will be no better than our own 'common-sense'!!!!!  Yeah Right!!!!!

Strategy and governance (my own areas of interest) are to me the most obvious.  A company run by inexperienced, often owner/directors, that isn't running well would benefit hugely by replacing the directors with an experienced, knowledgeable and balanced board.  Yes you may have to pay them more than you pay yourselves but always remember.........