Agile strategizing

This is the time of the year when many organizations prepare for a strategy review and update.

In my previous life, as the CEO of a subsidiary of a public company, I was responsible of my company’s strategy process and aligning it with the Group’s schedule. I enjoyed the sparring and working with the international set of smart people. It was somewhat less thrilling to prepare the huge amount of excel and powerpoint templates, and to persuade others to fill them in. I could well understand the necessity of standard tools as a part of the overall management system. However, I often wondered if the quantity of documents was misleading. As if quantity leads to quality; we’d assume that by producing that amount of data we’d somehow end up with better quality decisions.

A couple of years ago my private rebellion against the power of powerpoints was boosted by reading about strategy thoughts of the Canadian professor Roger Martin . Together with the CEO of Procter & Gamble A. G. Lafley he published a book called 'Playing to Win' , and has also written several articles on strategy. Martin says that endless analyzing is destructive waste of resources and may lead to a false sense of security. At the end of the day, one must make clear choices (what to do and also what not to do) and reasonably informed decisions. It’s also necessary to accept that uncertainty cannot be totally eradicated. Therefore, decisions should also be coupled with the agility to change the direction, should the original one turn out to be unprofitable.

Together with my colleague Marianne Saarikko Janson I had the privilege to spend a full day in the company of Roger Martin. He hosted an exclusive annual summit of the London-based Managing Partners’ Forum , where he discussed his research and thoughts of strategy. Also, he interviewed a few successful players in the corporate law industry who had thrived by making clear choices. One of the commentators was Richard Susskind who for over 20 years has stirred the law practitioners with his sometimes provoking ideas of the future of lawyers. Susskind was a keynote speaker at a Fondia client seminar in 2013; many of his thoughts clearly resonate with Fondia’s strategy. One of his overarching themes is the trend towards automation of routine work and lawyers’ focusing on the higher value-added advising of clients. According to Susskind, technology will drive the change in the legal industry in two ways: in increasing efficiency and enabling new service innovations. As we say in Fondia: Hell yeah!

In the end, Roger Martin spoke about strategy execution. It’s often the pain point where the process fails. Typically, it is thought that the management creates the strategy and their subordinates execute it. This is both unintelligent and disrespectful. Martin proposes abandoning the idea of ‘execution’ as a distinct activity. Strategy should be an on-going program, involving all parts of the organization and their knowledge. And since all decisions are made under uncertainty, it is vitally important to maintain a dialogue in the organization to spot early any signs that might be causes for checking the direction.

Summarizing the day, Martin quoted an article in the March 2015 Harvard Business Review (Sull, Homken, Sull: Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About It ): ' The starting point is a fundamental redefinition of [strategy] execution as the ability to seize opportunities aligned with strategy while coordinating with other parts of the organization on an ongoing basis.' Well said!