Some stories are so well known that we forget their message. One of those stories is about the Christmas Roast. A mother would always cut-off the cap on both ends before placing the roast in the oven. So one day, her daughter asked, why do you that? Well, the mother answered, that’s how my mother always did it. The daughter was not content with that explanation and asked: why did grandma do that? When mom didn’t know the answer to that question either, they decided to ask grandma who solved the mystery explaining that – you already know the answer – she only had a small oven and the roast was too big!
I feel that the whole dialogue about strategy is taking the same course. Everyone is PREcribing how to do strategy; you should first do A and then B and certainly not forget C! People get tired about hearing all those shoulds but no one is asking the most obvious question: “WHY”? Why does a business need a strategy to begin with?
When you’ve reached the board-level after a lifetime of achievements, who needs anyone telling you “HOW” to do your job? What General George Patton said regarding his soldiers is equally applicable to board members and executives: “Never tell people “HOW” to do things. Tell them “WHAT” to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity”.
“WHAT” your specific business needs in order to be sustainable, profitable and the obvious choice for your particular target audience should be the result of innovation and creativity. Unfortunately, in most corporations, structure becomes increasingly rigid toward the top, just the opposite from biological organizations that put innovation and creativity at the top of the hierarchy; in the brain.
It was Albert Einstein who gave us the solution out of that predicament of complacency, when you believe you know everything there is to know about business: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
There’s a distinct difference between knowing “How to fly an aircraft” and “Knowing what makes an aircraft fly”. My point is that creativity and innovation originates from the latter. When was the last time you engaged your childlike curiosity and asked yourself about the mechanics of the business system; how does it work or what makes it tick?
You may ask, why should I care? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer. Systems are very powerful and you want to make sure that your decisions will work WITH the system and not AGAINST it. When working against the system you can only expect one of two outcomes:
- You damage or destroy the system or …
- The system destroys you.
We have seen plenty of that lately although we’d like to take credit for success and blame failure on anything but us. However: “Systems are impartial just like railroad cars. But, the way you lay the tracks is the path the train will follow!” This path, the connection between where you are today and where you want to be at some future date, is the business strategy! Strategy touches upon every aspect of the business and is thus an executive responsibility that cannot be delegated!
Notice that there can only be ONE strategy for realizing the vision of the company! All the rest that we like to call strategy, such as an Internet-Strategy or an M&A Strategy is either tactics or operations. The latter concerns “how-to” instructions, also known as micro-managing when coming from the board-level or executive.
Therefore, strategy is your benchmark for success, the yard-stick against which you measure all strategic decisions. As a matter of fact, its not only the measure for success on the board level, it applies to the entire organization. This is where you create a “Hierarchy of Goals”. After all, not everyone is performing the same activities. Therefore, each hierarchical level needs to define its own goals in order to support the goals of the next higher level.
When doing this, your business has “Integrity”; realize that integrity is not something vague but it means the opposite of dysfunctional. Consequently, strategy cannot be the business’ best kept secret or everyone is pulling the organization in different directions at the same time; they’re working against the system’s design – they’re destroying the system from within because you didn’t give them the guidance they needed!
In the absence of board-level sponsorship, no strategic change will ever be successful. Therefore, in order for you to find great personal job satisfaction, I encourage you to stop asking others what they can do for your business and start asking yourself: “What can I do to make others successful.” Does that quote sound familiar?
Consequently, rather than PREscribing HOW to run your business, I believe that overall corporate performance greatly benefits from its board members and executives looking for information DEScribing WHAT makes a business system effective; what decisions they can take to facilitate people working WITH the system rather than AGAINST it.
Only when you understand how the business works as a singular, unique and integrated system can you gain the necessary insight for unleashing all your ingenuity to initiate successful strategic change for crafting a sustainable and profitable business with respect for humanity.
Yes, people are an asset and not a line-item of expenses that can be cut at will. After all, the business system has three components:
- Machines (tools, technology, process, procedures, etc.)
- Human-Machine Interface
Those aspects of a business system should be enough to get your creative juices flowing for your next meeting on strategy!