Reading the Financial Times of Monday March 6 2006, I found this interesting article regarding the idea of Joseph Bower (Harvard Business School), about strategy in the company management. Below you can find some part of the entire text. Enjoy the reading.
Is strategy back? It has not been fashionable recently for chief executives to offer grand strategic vision. Growth and profitability are the market’s immediate priorities, driven by demands of impatient hedge funds and institutions. Who has time for strategy when “execution” is all that really matters?
Last week, though, Arun Sarin, chief executive of Vodafone, was criticised for failing to deliver a convincing plan for the struggling mobile phone operator, even though he had been presented on his appointment in 2003 as a cool strategic thinker. Shareholders are running out of patience with businesses that seem to be floundering in a time of rapid change.
Sometimes companies fail to adapt to change quickly enough because they lack alternative options. “Thinking outside the box” is beyond many managers because they are rooted so firmly inside their divisional box that they cannot or dare not look beyond it.
This is one of the insights offered by Joseph Bower, the Donald Kirk David professor and chair of the General Manager Programme at Harvard Business School.
Prof Bower has been studying and writing about corporate strategy for four decades and last year published with faculty colleague Clark Gilbert, From Resource Allocation to Strategy, a collection of academic writing in the field.[….]
Prof Bower says: “most of us, when you ask us to do something, we do what we know how to do. Think about musicians. What will they play? They play the instruments they know, from repertoire they know. They are no different from managers. Managers give you options based on what they know to do, and their repertoire.” […]
“We design boxes precisely so that people will be in them. That’s the whole idea. And if you are looking at the problem that requires a different skill set you are probably going to have to get some different people. Or find it elsewhere within the organisation.” […]
Organization are hard to change because processes, once established, are persistent. And whatever head office may want to see happening, managers on the ground are taking decisions every day based on the evidence in front of them.
Strategy often emerges gradually and can be seen clearly only in retrospect. One of the most urgent challenges for corporate leaders, Prof Bower believes, is to make it possible for this bottom-up process of strategy development to emerge. […]
Prof Bower says: “when we talk about strategy we love to talk about abstractions. But what we need are brilliant ideas that exploit concrete things. If you are building a plant it has to be the right one in the right place.” […]
The biggest difference between strategy formulation these days and when Prof Bower began his research in the 1960s is the factor of time. The postwar world, up until the oil crisis of 1973, was benign for business. Competition was less intense and corporations had time and space to change. […]
Prof Bower has had a personal insight into how things have speeded up in recent years. “A good friend of mine runs a company in Europe. He became CEO, and in his first news conference and analyst meeting he had to announce flat earnings. He wasn’t smooth about it. And the hedge funds just clobbered his stock.
“He couldn’t believe it. He lost almost 20 per cent of the value of the firm, for telling the truth, albeit in a awkward way. Afterwards he learnt how to tell the truth smoothly, or in an upbeat way. Fortunately he also had the results to back that up. But it’s really tough out there now.”
Decisions do have to be taken fast but that does not spell the end of the strategy. Companies need to adapt and change quicker, and have an approach that makes such changes easier. But the lead for that has to come from the top.
The truth is, strategy back – and it never really went away.