The well-known academic, Henry Mintzberg writes that strategy is a pattern of decisions. He argues (convincingly) that strategy is more than simply the intent to accomplish the vision; it is also the emergent result of manager’s activities.
If strategy is emergent, then it must somehow be influenced by the organization creating it. If strategy is a pattern, then organizations must have patterns. Interestingly, Wikipedia has an entry on organizational patterns, which includes this definition:
Patterns are those arrangements or systems of internal relationship, which give to any culture its coherence or plan, and keep it from being a mere accumulation of random bits.
The phrase “coherence or plan” jumped out at me. I’m sure I’m like many others in simply thinking of a plan as a premeditated and deliberate view of the steps, activities, and resources needed to create some future. For example, a strategic plan frequently nothing more than an artifact that is attempts to capture each manager’s view of goals and resources to attain those goals.
I now realize that that there is a more profound and fundamental perspective on “the plan,” it is only a good plan if it makes good sense.
However, the reality is that those goals are often in conflict and are unaligned. Strategic initiative leaders often find themselves in the middle of a group of managers who have these different goals. It is a huge source of frustration and obstacle to execution. Author Richard Rumelt (Good Strategy/Bad Strategy) states,
“The main impediment to action is the forlorn hope that certain painful choices or actions can be avoided – that the whole long list of all hoped-for “priorities” can be achieved.”
Most organizations pursue multiple objectives that are unconnected with one another (and sometimes even conflict).They are anything but coherent!
Coherence means that things make sense. In the context of strategy, it means that the committed resources, policies, and actions are consistent and coordinated. Back to Richard Rumelt,
“Strategic coordination, or coherence, is not ad hoc mutual adjustment. It is coherence impose on a system by policy and design…specifically how actions and resources will be combined.
My Advice to Strategic Initiative Leaders
Thus, I arrived at an insight that might be very helpful to the strategic initiative leader: insert the concept of coherence into your discussions. How? One way is to ask simple questions, “Does this make sense? Where are the gaps? Are there conflicting objectives?”
One important question has to do with the expected gains of the strategy. The question is, “Are the benefits worth the sacrifices?”
Another way to encourage coherence is to activate the Chief Story Teller role, and use some of the many ideas that I have already provided on storytelling and branding.
Chances are that when things (strategies, goals, resources) don’t make sense, it’s already well known. What is missing is a useful narrative and the courage to discuss the incoherence.
Imposing coherence and discipline on an organization is difficult. I’ll close this article with Seth Godin’s interesting definition of hard work. He says that the meaning of hard work must change for the 21st century. He writes,
“None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they’re not smarter than you are either. They’re succeeding by doing hard work.
Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, and drive through the other barriers. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.”
Coherence is not a silver bullet for strategic initiatives, but a useful organizing framework. Do you agree?