Of course, the role of the strategist is of capital importance to the enterprise, and as organizations change, the role of the strategist also has to change.
Just a few decades ago, many multinational corporations used to have a centralized department that worked on corporate business-strategies. Then, the business-strategies were entrusted to the head of the business-units. In the 70s, the Japanese corporations and some Western companies adopted Hoshin Planning or other approaches to involve a wider swath of people in the development and/or in the deployment of the strategies. Today, Agile Management opens up strategic management 4 ways, namely: top/down and bottom/up, and inside/out and outside/in.
Under the above captioned title, I just published on LinkedIn another short- paper that outlines the role of the agile strategist as described in my new book “The Platform of Agile Management and the Program to Implement It”. In cordially invite you to share your ideas and your insights on this important subject on your LinkedIn groups and on my LinkedIn group <Agile Management Innovation>.
The traditional strategist
The traditional strategist is a high-ranking executive or a member of the executive committee that sits on top of the organizational pyramid of the business-units or of the corporation. Like the tourist on top of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, he/she sees far afield but does not see the detail. He/she does cannot see changes at the front lines fast enough and clearly enough, and he/she does not necessarily realize the difficulties the front-line personnel may have to implement new business-strategies.
The traditional organizational design may feature many intermediate levels that create hierarchical distances, that may introduce distortions, that may slip in conservatism and fear of failure, and that extend decision-making time.
Of course, informatics, telecommunications, and analytic tools have contributed alertness and swiftness but not necessarily suppleness in the management system. But, they have not substantially modified the style of leadership and the corporate culture.
The traditional strategist has performed well as long as existing strategies could be improved on, expanded on, and/or may have implemented evolutionary innovations. But now, we raft in the white-waters of volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times, the V.U.C.A. world we live in. “The future is not what it used to be”, and, since strategizing is about organizing for the future, strategizing is not what it used to be !
So, we need to look for changing the why-who-how, but, mind you, we are not looking for just changing the role of the strategist, since that role integrates the management system, a dynamically complex system as the late MIT Prof. Jay W. Forrester pointed out.
The agile strategist
Let us try to summarize what has changed in the business environment and what changes it engenders in the role of the strategist.
-1- Globalization meaning the wide-ranging interactivity of people, of resources, and of technologies. Conceptual and concrete globalization is complemented by geographical globalization albeit with its geopolitical gyrations.
That means that globalization has abated many boundaries. We see agile companies jump from one industry to the next. Management’s principles and practices are widely applicable, specific competences can be acquired, and the money to do so is widely available. Consequently, the agile strategist must be conceptual, and have a fish-eye vision. He/she must be bold and be quick to get in because windows of opportunity open and close pretty fast. He/she must also be bold and quick enough to get out when financial and credibility losses risk to seriously rock the boat.
-2- Our V.U.C.A. world is too complex for just a few to lead many people. Nobody knows it all, nobody has enough power to move a whole organization. Moreover, the wide-ranging interactivity of people and the ease and low cost of knowledge have greatly contributed to the emancipation of crowds.
People want to contribute their knowledge and ingenuity in order to enhance their personal value, not just to enrich their bank-account. Moreover, they want to know where the boat they are on is heading for, their family and financial situation depend on it.
Thus, people want to participate in the development or at least in the deployment of the business-strategies.
-3- We used to think <big is beautiful>, but we have come to see big industrial empires fumble and fail. We have also seen start-ups to grab part of existing markets or to create new markets and prosper. Agile Management builds on management as a team-sport where teams and their networks connect and create <business value> by being small, smart, and swift.
So – albeit most concisely – we have discussed the why and the who as concerns the role of the strategist in our V.U.C.A. world. Let us just take a glimpse at the how, and see how the agile strategists work.
The process of agile strategizing
Let us take a simple quadrant where the 4D or factors of strategizing interact:
° on the top level e have the role of the senior management,
on the lower level we have the operations
° on the left-side column we have outside-in the movements and the trends,
and on the right-side column we have the inside-out business-strategies.
The top management, i.e. the CEO and his/her executive committee envision what is and what is/ could be changing and they articulate the broad avenues of opportunities that they can anticipate or expect.
The operations, i.e. the teams and their networks, see what is happening and they are empowered to take as appropriate their initiatives. They see the results they are getting, and they anticipate what other initiatives they may have to take in a foreseeable future.
The top management and the operations combine their respective ideas and insights as follows. The top management focuses on developing the business-strategies for the special projects and for the business breakthroughs. Then, together with the operations, it decides which activities to develop or to discontinue. The operations focus on the business-strategies concerning continuous business improvements and on the maintenance. Once the two levels have agreed on synergizing their projects, their funding, and the distribution of responsibilities, and the expected performances, they work out together the <process of strategic and organizational deployment>.
Thus, starting outside-in, the management’s team-work will have developed and deployed inside-out the business-strategies. All the people and all the teams that have participated in the <process of strategic and organizational deployment> will have contributed to their personal value and to the <shared critical capabilities> of the enterprise. (1)
My trying to squeeze the <process of strategic and organizational deployment> in a few words has made it look more complicated than what it really is. However, a key point that each management has to work out is how to make this process simple, smart, and swift. Obviously , the answer lies in the style of leadership and in the organizational design of the agile innovative enterprise, that every organization must work out for itself.
You can probably pick the year 1500 for the Italian Rinascimento, and the year 2000 for our V.U.C.A. world. Both have marked a different era, and a different era calls for different opportunities and for different means. Agile strategists are among the key drivers of our different times.
Willy A. Sussland “The Platform of Agile Management and the Program to Implement It” Routledge 09/2017