Reducing OUCH! In Strategy con’t


The last post focused on the first of four quite typical and normal things that happen once the organization strategy has been established or revisited:


  1. The vision gets forgotten.
  2. Emergent issues are dealt with by patterns of interaction that have been historically established.
  3. Significant projects resulting from the strategy get acted upon through the allocation of considerable resources and become change projects.
  4. Less significant projects resulting from the strategy get allocated to specific people with little resources and often fail or get put aside.

This post will look primarily at point 2. Points 3 and 4 more or less get folded into our look at point 2.

In the last post it was also noted that effective strategy, strategy without OUCH! exists in those four points above. We are not trying to avoid these four points in order to do ‘good strategy’, we are trying to make them more obvious and conscious and to take them seriously.

We have defined strategy as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. And also the art of that planning. We tend to think of plans as fairly static and consistent over periods of time. In reality strategy is planning as a process of movement. To be strategic is to focus coherently on this process of movement, day by day within the organization. This brings us to point two, which is where senior people, because of their very real power can have the most influence. Both strategically for the competitiveness of the organization and within the organization itself.

I think that this area is where strategy is at its best and also the most challenging. Exactly where senior leadership should focus.

Influencing patterns of interaction to deal with emergent issues.

In the interaction model the left loop represents patterns, typically patterns of interaction that are established over time and often become quite stable. The right loop represents movement forward. These two loops are linked by interaction, day in and day out. Since the left loop can become quite stable it can dramatically affect the right loop, keeping movement forward very similar to what has historically occurred in the left loop.

This is what the quote attributed to Peter Drucker – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ – was describing. In terms of the interaction model what this means is that with no change in the day to day interactions people have, movement forward will mirror the past. If you want to be strategic, to influence the process of movement forward the focus is on interaction. This places the majority of strategic work firmly in the present, a major difference from the typical way strategy is currently understood.

Interaction Model

You may have noticed that not much is being said about what is often described as the ‘what’ of strategy (the specific course of action a strategy should  lay out for the organization) and how to determine what this specific course of action might be. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The variability of specific plans of action (the what) is enormous and is not the focus of this work. If senior leadership requires specific help then they need to access that appropriately.
  2. Today the static ‘what’ of strategy is much less important than a focus on emergent opportunities.

If we place the majority of strategic work in the present, on our interactions, the importance of mission or day to day intentions becomes clear. What these things become are the filters by which interaction can be passed, every interaction.

You may recall in the last post I noted the three day to day intentions we have in our small organization:

  • Building relationships to create opportunities.
  • Differentiation in the marketplace.
  • We need all of each of us.

With each interaction, with each emergent opportunity we can ask ourselves how these intentions are informing what we choose to do, which one(s) may be more or less important in this situation, and our rationale for these choices.

This is strategy, centered in the present, focused on day to day interactions.

Since context is so important there is neither a final and right answer to how those day to day intentions should play out nor a definitive answer what they mean. This then establishes the bottom arrow in the right loop and the left facing arrowhead in the gesture and response of the interaction model firmly as part of strategy. It is these two parts of the interaction model that typical understanding of strategy eliminates.

With this focus much of the OUCH! in strategy dissipates. Perhaps a better word is that the OUCH! is transformed. It will be transformed often into heated discussion, outright conflict, a need to think through the rationale of our choices using these filters and quite often defend that rationale.

The critical strategic role of senior leadership is to encourage and engage in those interactions. Not just in their direct team but inside and outside the organization; daily!

In essence, strategy IS these interactions.

Reducing OUCH! does not mean everyone is happy and things are wonderful. It does not mean success is guaranteed. What it does mean is that strategy work becomes much more real, interactive and present. It becomes challenging in a very real sense.

Consider what this means for senior leadership, the people considered most responsible for organization strategy. The way strategy is now understood mostly eliminates the interactive nature of strategy for senior leaders as noted in earlier posts. They set the strategy and move to implementation. Any challenge to the strategy or response other than agreement is highly problematic.

Without the constraints of certainty in strategy work, interaction, with all its challenges becomes the norm.

I wonder what that might look like? I wonder what character might look like? I also wonder if we’re so used to the OUCH! in strategy and the benefits it provides that our current patterns of interaction are so established that we’re simply happy to keep things as they are?

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What do you think strategy like this would look like?
  2. In many ways, strategy like this would require higher levels of self management throughout the organization (see this post). Do you think current understanding of strategy has compromised levels of self management?
  3. Could your organization accept an approach to strategy as described above?





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