Do Your Internal Functions Have A Strategy?

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A significant portion of my strategic facilitation work is with internal functions, a click or two below corporate and business unit strategy: marketing, human resources, purchasing, and even internal strategy groups.

There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that internal functions have recognized the need to be strategic, even if it is because higher level strategies demand supporting strategies. The bad news is how many internal functions don’t think strategy applies to them.

When I ask internal functions to show me what guides their department’s work, I’m more often than not handed a plan, which is a budget in disguise. It is rarely explicit in laying out a winning aspiration and clear where-to-play and how-to-win choices.

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What Appears To Be Strategy…Isn’t

I regularly engage in hansei (reflection) after each of my facilitation engagements. It’s a simple learning mechanism, essentially an after-action process of asking: what I expected to happen (my hypothesis if you will), what actually happened, and what explains the gap, if there is one. And there invariably is. The gap is where learning and insight live. It creates new knowledge. It’s how I improve. I know no other more effective way.

I do what I call a “rollup” of those individual after-action reflections a few times each year, to identify important patterns. Peter Drucker called this the “Feedback Analysis.” I do what he suggested, which is to layer my reflections with input from others…clients, session participants, etc. I’ve experienced exactly what Drucker did when he wrote, “I have been doing this for some fifteen to twenty years now. And every time I do it, I am surprised. And so is everyone who has ever done this.”

My most recent insight runs along the lines of:

  • What appears to be the problem, isn’t.
  • What appears to be the solution, isn’t.
  • And what appears to be strategy, isn’t.

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Swat Your SWOT…Forever

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The more strategy development work I do with organizations, the more I’m becoming aware of a prevalent pattern, a pattern which I find counterproductive, even detrimental. It concerns the starting point for their strategy work: in nearly every case, they begin with convergent thinking, the polar opposite of divergent thinking, which I believe is the kind of thinking true strategy demands.

To show just how embedded this pattern is in the corporate mind, take a moment to mentally fill in the blanks:

Strategic ______________

SWOT _________________

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