Strategy, Change on the Horizon

In a world of hypercompetitive environments, organizations fight to survive in severe economic conditions. Shareholders replace CEOs like they change defective light bulbs. It is frequent and unpredictable.  In hopes of salvaging the latest struggling organization, executives usually implement quick solutions by cutting costs (which translates to mean people) and attempting to stop the hemorrhaging through technology. Yet, can today’s managers continue to do the same things and expect different results? 

No! Today’s challenges are calling for a different methodology. Strategic thinking represents a different solution for contemporary managers. Strategic thinking is more than careful planning of the organization’s work. Strategic thinking consists of two components, which are knowledge about the present and foresight about the future. Let’s go deeper.  

 Some managers foolishly rely solely on their experience to read market changes. Yet, the current market isn’t like the past! In many situations, managers are equipped to deal with the predictable.  Change that is either planned or incremental is addressed with a risk management approach. However, disruptive change is the hallmark of today’s markets.

Disruptive change is sudden and unpredictable. Therefore, experience becomes a liability, not an asset. Organizations, using the old mode of operations, find themselves vulnerable. Established institutions fail. Unknown companies emerge to dominate new sectors. Clayton Christensen, author of Innovative Dilemma, attributes this phenomenon to disruptive innovation.  Therefore, survival depends on understanding the current markets and future trends.

Strategic leaders are needed in today’s organizations. Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason, argues “Discontinuous change requires discontinuous thinking. If the new way of doing things is going to be different from the old, not just an improvement on it, then we shall need to look at everything in a new way.” 

 Watt Wacker, Jim Taylor, and Howard Means, leadership gurus, suggest a visionary leader with the capacity of ‘living in the present’ while ‘living in the future.” Therefore, duality becomes a critical attribute of exemplary organizations.

Clearly, strategic thinking is different than routine planning of an organization. Unfortunately, some managers are unaware how this process can assist them in being competitive. Strategic thinking can be characterized in the following ways: (a) focusing on important issues, (b) selecting relevant information, (c) recognizing systematic properties (linkages, patterns, etc.), (d) distinguishing causes from effect, (e) maintaining a long-term view, (f) appreciating consequences, (g) generating alternatives, (h) integrating logical with creative, divergent thinking, (i) remaining flexible, and (j) acting during crises.  

Since contemporary organizations can no longer use outdated methods and cookie cutter solutions in this disruptive environment, managers must reexamine their operations. In fact, leaders must be flexible to sudden market changes. Therefore, effective organizations go beyond detailed planning to strategic thinking.

At what levels of management would strategic thinking be best utilized? Do you feel that workers should be equipped with some type of training to detect disruptive change in the market?  How can you influence your organization to think strategically?

© 2010 by Daryl D. Green

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31 thoughts on “Strategy, Change on the Horizon

  1. Strategic thinking should be utilized at all levels of management. In order to stay on the top of market, management should find effective ways to keep up with new developments and implement new ideas. Market is changing very rapidly, and managers’ ability to stay flexible and be prepared to changes is critical.
    I think one way to influence employees to think strategically is “brain storming” sessions. During the sessions, employees are able to express themselves in a creative way and bring new ideas that will ultimately benefit the company.

  2. Strategic thinking requires high flexibility across an entire organization. Managers should be capable of adapting their strategies quickly. An efficient method of detecting disruptive change in the market is obtaining feedback from workers. Workers usually detect trends and developments because they are the first line of contact with an organization’s external environment and more than often they communicate directly with customers. Given that communication is developed across all levels of an organization, I believe that making workers aware of the concept of disruptive change should be a sufficient way of acquiring this information. Formal training might be unnecessary or costly at the worker level. Managers should also have the human skills needed to attain and analyze that information.

      • Management experts on worker involvement and strategy:

        1- “The key priorities of the organization need to be reflected in the structure, and in turn the structure needs to organize, motivate and empower employees to achieve the strategy”

        2- Hay Group’s extensive global research reveals that the missing link between engagement and performance is enablement. We have found that organizations with high levels of engagement and enablement outperform their competitors, by 4.5 times. Enablement can be defined as ‘support for success’
        The study involved data from 41 client organizations across industries and more than 1 million employees worldwide

        References:

        *1 Is Employee Engagement Enough? By: MacRae, Ian, Dawson, Sam, New Zealand Management, Aug2009, Vol. 56, Issue 7

        *2 Healthcare Executive; Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 25 Issue 1, p77-77, 1p.
        Hay Group, a global management consulting firm

    • The more I’ve read and researched worker empowerment and involvement, the more I came across enablement. It seems like many organizations involve their workers and listen to their feedback but lack giving them the tools needed to practically apply their thoughts or don’t apply them at all. What good would it be if I listened to my employees’ feedback but never used it or allowed them to use it? Over time, it may be detrimental.

      I think managers should be aware that involving employees is an effective tool to boost performance, morale, worker retention, etc. but also consider its drawbacks if they don’t follow through. I’m not suggesting to execute all worker feedback; Instead use it in a planned and controlled manner.

  3. The majority of strategic thinking is going to take place at the CEO and Top manager level within most organizations. However, all members of an organization have unique insite into their area of responsibility. It is incumbent upon management to tap into the expertise of their entire workforce. To create an atmosphere of free flowing ideas and feedback between line personnel and upper management to identify disruptive change. This ebb and flow of information will increase efficiency and effectiveness by appling the Behavioral management Theory developed by Mary P. Follett. Since employees ”…know the most about their jobs, they should be involved in job analysis and managers should allow them to participate in the work development process”
    (p. 55).
    I do not feel employees need training to detect changes in the marketplace that may be disruptive. Conversely, I believe management needs to be trained on fostering the free flow of ideas within their organization. Training that developes the Emotional Intelligence of managers to solicit disruptive change ideas proposed by subordinates and serve as the conduit for their implementation. In essence, appling the Hawthorne Effect to disruptive change. Thereby, improving morale and encouraging employees to take ownership in their organization.

    Reference:
    Jones, G & George J. (2008). Contemporary Management (6th Edition).
    New York, NY: McGrawhill/Irwin.

    • Kenny, those comments are pretty erudite! In fact, They’re pretty deep for grads.

      You mentioned Mary Follett and all the work done by behavorists. It appears that a bottom-ups strategy is not feasible or is it?

      I ask everyone to follow the depth of Kenny’s discussion!

      • I beleive that companies too often dismiss valuable input from line
        personnel and even front line supervisors. Not only does this deter creativity,
        it discourages employees from taking ownership in the organization
        and making future recommendations. The sum effect is a demoralized
        workforce that feels unappreciated and a company that is less efficient
        and productive as a result. No one is suggesting that upper management
        surrender their roles and responsibilities when it comes to strategic thinking or planning. Rather, be more receptive to good ideas from the bottom up.

      • I agree with Kenny that top managment is doing most of the strategic thinking. However, if they used a bottom up strategy as Dr. Green suggests, they could tap into a wealth of knowledge readily available to them. Those involved in the day to day details, become experts in that area of the company. If those individuals are not included in the planning phases, then companies are not as effective, because they have missed the details from their ‘experts’. And, as Kenny suggested, companies are less efficient and not as productive as a result.

    • I agree with Kenny Miller’s post, and would stress the importance of empowerment. Through a true “open-door” policy that urges not only complaints and personal issues, but ideas and observations at all levels, management will know the disruptions/changes of the marketplace. Our class recently discussed the characteristics of Generation Y, and how they need to feel their work is meaningful. I would argue that all workers, regardless of their generation, flourish when a superior genuinely receives an idea or observation for analysis or consideration. Therefore, the training, like Kenny suggested, should be with management implementing or at least considering subordinates ideas. Of course, management needs to keep an eye out on the market place.

  4. Strategic thinking should be handled at all levels of management. Top-level managers are making the decisions and therefore should find ways to brainstorm the ideas from all levels of management within an organization. One of the ways to incorporate training of detection of disruptive changes can be to have required online classes required by all employees in an environment similar to Skillsoft. It appears that most companies want to think strategically but fail to incorporate the concept companywide. Many companies have daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly management meetings in which all levels of management get together to discuss the results of the company performance, where the company is going, and what to expect in the future. Oftentimes an agenda of what will be discussed can be disseminated prior to the meeting. This can allow time for managers at all levels to brainstorm with their lower level employees who have the firsthand knowledge. Current issues can be discussed along with possible recommendations to counteract or prevent disruptive changes in the future.

    References:

    Strategic Management – MGT603. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/2516371/Strategic-Management

  5. I might drown if I follow Kenny ( Sorry bad Joke). I do agree with Kenny and Landon that Strategic Thinking does happen from the top, but not Strategic Planning. Strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value by enabling a provocative and creative dialogue among people who can affect a company’s direction. It is the input to strategic planning—good strategic thinking uncovers potential opportunities for creating value and challenges assumptions about a company’s value proposition, so that when the plan is created, it targets these opportunities. Strategic planning is identifying how your business can realistically secure opportunities given the company’s environment and existing resources. If your business is to succeed and grow, it is essential to dedicate the time in identifying how to best position your company to meet existing resource demands. The planning process needs to take place on all levels, but once there is a plan than there are deliverables, strategic objectives, defining critical issues, and than setting a time table. It is very important in this process to know the difference between an objective and a deliverable.

    Ref. http://www.mbda.gov/?section_id=5&bucket_id=162&content_id=2501&well=entire_page

    http://www.cfar.com/Documents/strathink.pdf

  6. Kenny and Griffin both have very good points. I agree that for the most part, strategic thinking occurs from the top down in the majority of organizations. I am a supporter of the Mary Follet approach that the employees know the most about their jos and should be included in planning. In order to indure disruptive change, all levels of the company must be included in the strategic thinking and planning. To accomplish this, upper management must consist of open -minded leaders willing to hear the suggestions of “front line” employees.
    I do not think a course in identifying disruptive change would be beneficial. The majority of teaching in courses are usually centered around pre determined cause and effect situations. As we all kniown, disruptive change does not follow determined paths. Managers need to think outside the box, using as many input channels as possible. Sometimes attending a class constrains us to apply only what is learned in that class. If anything, a class in being open to external sources and employee idea utilization is needed. Strategic planning is the road map through challenges, strategic thinking is the approach to the “stops” along the way and how to successfully mangage challenges. Both are equally important

    • That’s a very big dilemma. Have a course focused around critical thinking approaches to change that continually reinforces the idea that disruptive forces are constantly present and evolving. Until more effective ways and means are identified, management courses that encourage free and critical thinking are the best solution if an organization believes courses are what is needed.

  7. I agree with the previous posts that strategic thinking and planning takes place by top management. As they formulate their ideas and plans for the future, they share these ideas with their staff and lower levels. It’s ultimately their responsibility to ensure that their plan is put into place. It does takes cooperation and dedication to the cause, by all levels in the organization, to ensure that this happens. However, I do not think that formal training on disruptive changes is the avenue to pursue. Instead, good leaders can train and guide their staff through day to day operations, especially if they surround themselves with bright and intuitive individuals. HR training programs, although well intended, are not always up to date with the current changes in the market. Top management should be in touch with their business plan, the current market and the future industry trends in order to guide the company to be successful. If top management does not stay abreast of these areas, then the company may not be as successful.

    Disruptive change is part of business, and the company leaders need to be aware of their surroundings in the market. Whether that change comes from customer feedback via Marketing, or something a vendor said to Purchasing, or 100’s of other ways, all may be viable sources of information that play a part in the company’s strategy. I think that information can come from variety of sources, but it needs to be funneled to the top, in order to have the most impact on the whole.

    http://www.humanresources.com

  8. Strategic thinking should be utilized at all levels of management. The question may also pertain to how strategic thinking is utilized by all lower levels of employees. Workers may bring alternative solutions and ideas to management’s attention. They understand the market changes and this most definitely could impact a managers forecast and future strategy and compensate for disruptive change. For those employees that express ideas of intrapreneurship, we should provide them a platform for expression. Businesses should entertain a learning organization style to support free flowing ideas from lower level employees. Monthly department meetings, a mentoring program, or Delphi analysis are all great ways to approach new strategy techniques for managers.

      • Just tonight, I was reading Chapter 8 and noticed a comment about the Planning Process. One reason to plan is stated as “Planning is a useful way of getting managers to participate in decision making about the appropriate goals and stratagies for an organization.” For example, at annual meetings, top managers may request input from lower-level managers to determine what the organization’s goals and strategies should be. And you could take it one step lower and ask the “worker bees” at department meetings about suggestions for areas of improvement and new ideas for growth. This would enable your staff to feel comfortable with being a part of the overall success of the company. It would enhance their CREATIVITY as well!

  9. I believe strategic thinking should be used at all levels of management. It is a tool to help guide companies presently and futuristically. I think currently most companies have some type of strategic thinking. Currently Mercy uses programs known as LEAN or Six Sigma Programs to help specific departments better understand certain issues/problems and then how to strategically find the best possible solution.

    Workers should understand disruptive change is possible for any company or individual. It’s apart of everyday life, learning how to adapt to change. What is important is the tools/knowledge we share with these workers/companies on how to strategically adapt to change. I think I can help my organization by motivating my 40 employees to provide the best care possible to the people we serve daily. By providing the best care we will ensure our organization survives a chaotic business environment.

      • I believe it is the doorway to the future. Companies are always trying to improve processes and eliminates waste. Six Sigma encourages these processes and improves/increase the quality of everything!

  10. Companies that expect to survive change must offer some type of training to their employees so they are constantly improving. Strategic thinking is used at all levels of management, a very useful technique for promoting employees is to spot the employees that show skills of strategic thinking and adjust well to changes being made. The company I work for has a habit of insisting that they have done things the same way for 30-40 years and been successful at it. This is a scary thought in the business cycle our economy is experiancing. Toyota corporation has a team of employees that practice Kiesen which is the Japenese technique of looking ahead for problems and correcting them before they take place. It will be interesting what techniques of strategic thinking Toyota practices during their times of troubles.

  11. One manager told me once. “I hired you to follow my orders. If I need that you think I should hire you for another position.” I quitted at the end of the day. If he didn’t want me to think I couldn’t work there.
    Unfortunately it is a normal practice everywhere. Companies, where managers just want that their workers do what is programmed without questions. We talked some blogs ago that companies can develop leadership in employees. The company way of think must be strategically developed to teach employees to wide their line of thought. Normally companies hire someone and right a head try to make this person be productive. That’s important, however the companies must develop trainings where the entry level employees don’t have an answer right a head about it tasks. But it must understand the company as whole and the activity it does inside this machine. Whatever the task, a secretary, a front desk, a cleaner or a manager. The way of conduct and the strategic attitude must be something integrated.
    If it works in a marketing activity, the employee must understand the competitor lines of think and the whole market to develop the right attitude for some task. Maybe something it does will make difference for the future. Employees must have to keep in mind that they can encourage colleagues to think strategically. If we ask ourselves, why. Why we do this way? Why should we do this differentially? Does an employee at the same level but for my company’s competitor make this task the same way as I make? Can I implement that here?
    Simple attitudes can make the difference to understand the business better and to get new ideas that can make strategically differences.

  12. The top level of management in an organization makes major decisions and decides on what strategy to use and the other managers below works on implementing that strategy. They foresee the opportunities and threats while doing the day-to-day operations and think strategically to overcome any threats and to maximize the response to its opportunities. Although strategic thinking should be best utilised at top level of management, there should be a strong cross-functional interaction across the organisation. This will help the management get a clear picture of what is happening across the organisation, and take recommendations from the department managers on what needs to be changed, the effects of the change and also communicate the changes to the employees

    As for the disruptive change in the market, you always want to train your employees to have at least some knowledge of the competitors, also there should be some contingency plans in place that can easily be implemented whenever there are disruptive changes in the market.

    You can encourage the organisation to think strategically by motivating the employees and encouraging them to think outside the box. There should also be brainstorming sessions where employees can share their thoughts and ideas with each other freely.

  13. I believe that all levels of management should utilize strategic thinking. Granted, the closer you get to the top, the more necessary it is since their decisions decide the ultimate outcome of the organization, but if all lines of management are utilizing this way of thinking, then it can only better the company. I also believe that employees should be trained in forecasting disruptive changes in the market and how to deal with these changes. Organizations work best if all its employees work together as a unit. If more eyes and brains are trained on various things concerning the organization, then more than likely more problems can be solved. TO have your organization think more strategically one can try and do the some of the following:
    1) Sometimes failures happen, don’t let these deter you
    2) Stand by your decisions
    3) Strive to instill teamwork

    http://www.morethanaminute.com/2009/12/08/how-to-get-others-thinking-strategically/

  14. I agree with Kenny Miller’s post that strategic planning happens primarily in the CEO and upper management level offices. However, the ability to identify and name the disruptive change needs to flow down to the front level workers. After all, they are the ones who will see it first. For the strategic planning to be effective, the disruptive change needs to be addressed ASAP and new plans need to be implemented before the affected sector suffers.

  15. In a typical bureaucracy, strategic thinking typically takes place at the upper level of management. However, they are so far removed from daily operations and the sensitivity of customer needs. It is nearly impossible for managers to draw a concise image and develop an accurate framework for strategic planning. Thus, it is even more important to involve the bottom line whether a tall or flat organization. The bottom line worker plays a pivotal role in the strategic process. Hence, it is extremely vital that they are proportionately involved and adequately trained to contribute. They are first handedly involved which nearly eliminates the ideal of observation or focus groups. So this physical contact time allows them to converse with and observe customers helping to keep them abreast of disruptive changes in the market and giving them the ability to place customer problems at the center of the new niche equation. Irving Wladawsky-Berger states, “many companies fail to adequately embrace a disruptive innovation not because they did not develop the right strategy but because it was essentially rejected by the organization….” With this in mind, I would encourage my organization to be embracive of new ideologies in remembrance that change is constant.
    Wladawsky-Berger, I. February 1, 2010. Disruptive Innovations and Organizational Change. Retrived April 10, 2010 from http://blog.irvingwb.com/blog/2010/02/disruptive-innovations-and-organizational-change.html

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