19 June 2009 • 12:29 pm

Cascading Conundrums – Part II

In Part I of this topic, I asserted that cascading a balanced scorecard (BSC) across an organization is a process that requires careful planning, and thoughtful answers to the ‘When’ and ‘Why’ questions. I cautioned that hastily planned cascading can derail the entire change program. Here, we continue with the next question every leadership team should consider before cascading strategy across the organization.


18 June 2009 • 12:24 pm

Cascading Conundrums – Part I

Cascading is a term that has been used in the balanced scorecard (BSC) community to describe the process of propagating the BSC across an organization. Although the term implies a downward movement (through the organization’s hierarchy), propagation in any direction has come to be referred to as ‘cascading.’ Some people mistakenly apply the term to the strategy communication process; after all, they reason, communication of strategy also cascades through the organization, and is certainly related to BSC propagation. But I believe that cascading and communication are two separate processes, especially since communication is absolutely essential to the change process, while cascading is not always necessary or beneficial. And poorly-planned cascading can derail the change program.


17 June 2009 • 11:33 am

Talking about Strategy

An excellent predictor of the effectiveness of the change program in any organization is how that organization’s members talk about strategy. Leaders engaging in a change program tend to spend far more energy in developing their strategy than they do in ensuring that the message of strategy is effectively communicated throughout the organization. This isn’t surprising: talking about strategy doesn’t come naturally, but it is essential to the success of the change program.


16 June 2009 • 10:55 am

Consonance vs. Dissonance in the Change Agenda

(After two consecutive posts on the topic of the Strategy-Focused IT Organization, and two well-received posts on strategy map design, I return to one of my favorite themes: musing about organization behavior and its impact on strategy and change. Don’t like this topic? As the number of readers of the Tenacious Blog grows, I will rely ever more on your feedback to know which postings are most valuable to, so please share your comments and criticisms below every post that you read.)

One key benefit of having an outsider facilitate an organization’s change process is the outsider’s objective viewpoint. In preparing to facilitate a strategy development workshop, I insist on prior, separate, one-on-one interviews with each member of the leadership team charged with developing the strategy. My aim during these interviews is not to promote a particular change agenda, but to understand the extent to which the members of the team have identical, aligned, or divergent beliefs and values about the change agenda for the organization. In short, I look for consonance or dissonance (wonderful musical terms that apply here as well) in the strategic song of the leadership team. The understanding I gain is of vital importance when facilitating the team as a whole.


5 June 2009 • 8:03 pm

Economist: GM was ‘Disastrously Inflexible’

I want to share with you the opening lines of the lead story in tomorrow’s Economist. With no punches pulled, the issue’s cover story disects the decline and bankruptcy of GM, once the most powerful corporation in the world. The tale of GM is a sad but effective illustration of the deadly combination of long-term avoidance of change and institutionalized support of the status quo, in this case by the U.S. goverment. The article is a very worthwhile read for those engaged in strategic planning. Your comments are welcome below.

The decline and fall of General Motors

Detroitosaurus wrecks

The lessons for America and the car industry from the biggest industrial collapse ever

The demise of GM had been expected for so long that when it finally died there was barely a whimper. Wall Street was unmoved. Congress did not draw breath. America shrugged. Yet the indifference with which the news was received should not obscure its importance. A company which once sold half the cars in America, employed in its various guises as many people as the combined populations of Nevada and Delaware and was regarded as a model for managers all over the world has just gone under; and its collapse holds important lessons about management, about government and about the future of the car industry.

GM’s architect, Alfred Sloan, never had Henry Ford’s entrepreneurial or technical genius, but he had organisation. He designed his company around the needs of his customers (“a car for every purse and purpose”). The divisional structure he created in the 1920s, with professional managers reporting to a head office through strict financial monitoring, was adopted by other titans of American business, such as GE, Dupont and IBM before the model spread across the rich world.

Although this model was brilliantly designed for domination, when the environment changed it proved disastrously inflexible…

2 June 2009 • 8:25 pm

Cause and Effect: The Building Blocks of Strategy

Those familiar with strategy maps know that when properly designed, they convey the cause and effect hypotheses of an organization’s strategy. No leader, no matter how gifted, is able to discern the future. But to describe strategy is to describe how leaders believe that value will be created in the future. While some organizations’ leaders may be content to simply say “our strategy is to become the number one producer of widgets in North America,” there is nothing in such a weak statement to help middle managers and front-line employees understand how the organization will become so good at producing widgets. And therein lies the critical need for conveying the hypotheses of cause and effect.

Let’s consider a simple example. In this purely hypothetical example, my wife is judging my performance in our organization (our family) by two measures: the number of calories I eat each day, and the number of days each week I exercise for at least thirty minutes. She’s even established targets for my performance; no more than 2,000 calories in a day, and at least three exercise periods a week. On the basis of those two measures, we can infer that she wants me to eat smart and to exercise. But why is my performance being measured this way? (If you have a good punchline, please leave it in the comments below.)


25 May 2009 • 11:19 am

Hygienic Strategy?

Much of my work with organizations has been influenced by two classic theories of human behavior and motivation. Many of my clients have been familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in which human needs are arranged like rungs on a ladder. According to Maslow, the most basic needs at the bottom of the ladder are physical, such as air, water, food, and sleep. Next are safety needs, followed by psychological, or social needs; for belonging, love, acceptance. Next are esteem needs; to feel achievement, status, responsibility, and reputation. At the top of it all are the self-actualizing needs; the need to fulfill oneself, to become all that one is capable of becoming. Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder would inhibit the person from climbing to the next step. Published in 1943, Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation has been a remarkably durable set of ideas, given the advances in behavioral science in the decades since.


22 May 2009 • 7:41 pm

Strategy Execution Impossible Without IT

An overview of the history of information technology in organizations shows that at one time, decisions about IT spending were simple cost-benefit calculations made to reduce labor. Things are very different today.


21 May 2009 • 1:32 pm

Blockbuster vs. Netflix: A Case of Technology-Driven Strategy

For a few years now, I’ve been doing a riff on Blockbuster and Netflix in some of my speaking engagements. It’s been a useful case for sharing many of my insights about strategic management and the role of technology in strategy (disclaimer: neither of these firms has been a client of mine, and my impressions have been formed only from publicly-available information).

The essence of the riff is this: Blockbuster built a very successful business model and then had its lunch eaten by Netflix. The key lessons we can learn from this case are:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of technology to change your competitive environment.
  • Constantly be looking for ways to challenge and reinvent your value proposition, or your competitors will do it for you.
  • Recognize and overcome the forces that will resist change in your own organization.