Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Integrated Approach to Strategy

This article was written in late 2003

All organisations spend time on discussing STRATEGY. Strategy will provide the magic bullet that will get you ahead of the race, make your brand number 1 in the market, remove poverty and racial bias.

A key to the success of strategy, a word that is gaining airtime in recent years, is INTEGRATED strategy. Strategy prior to coining this term was disintegrated and that corporations became huge and successful, individuals became wealthy and famous and wars were won without such Integrated Strategy.

Integrated strategy often revolves around frameworks. Someone sits down and lists down all the ingredients of what constitutes integrated strategy. This checklist is put into a diagram with different polygons and lines, some with arrows. A quick huddle in a darkened meeting room around a projection screen powerpoint presentation and behold – the war is well on its way to being won.

In corporate business, integrated strategy will have inter alia the following components:

  • Market research
  • Competitor analysis
  • Technology
  • Information technology (this is a holy cow)
  • Quality systems
  • Human Resources Development
  • Finance

The people responsible for the above, who will be called functional heads, or business leaders, and carry titles like Vice-President or Director will then sit around a boardroom to discuss integrated strategy. The more bureaucratic an organization, the “heads” will conveniently arrive at a “consensus” on a budget that will be fought for with statements such as “market research is critical in the fast globalizing environment” and “people are our fundamental resource”. Organizations that are run more entrepreneurially (aka our lala companies) will have short meetings where the boss tells everyone what he plans to do and what each department/division is being allocated as resources. The more egalitarian will encourage everyone to take a shot at this plan (and resource allocation). In both cases, a buffer called the Strategic Planning department will provide the meat for the pack to chew on and allocate.

Some of the outcome of the integrated business strategy will reveal themselves through actions as under (these are all real life experiences of the writer):

Marketing head of a leading telecommunications infrastructure company wants to commission Market Research on the telecom sector in India. The key question he wants answered is when will the market explode? (Since when did a booming market present a problem?). For this, the research will go to consumers around the country to ask them if they will buy and use phones (which they’ve never done thus far) at a particular price line (they’ve been using call booths till now). Apparently nothing is wrong with business, but the approximately US $ 100,000 research is to arm the manager to fight for allocations internally. It does not matter that the lead time to financial closure and implementation of an infrastructure project is normally atleast 6 to 8 months even in telecom, the lead time that will allow equipment manufacturers to rally resources. But the research budget has already been sanctioned and must be utilized.

A leading socially oriented organization was going into retreats about aligning top management philosophy as part of its human resources focus. The “feel good” workshops and alignment took place while the organizations revenues were flat and it was defaulting on it external commitments (albeit not commercial ones).

A globally respected company with significant business interests in India prides itself on quality focus. Successive workshops on quality systems with awards and recognition systems. Only you probably have to follow up half a dozen times each year to ensure that your TDS certificates as an external vendor come to you at the right time and god help you if you move. The quality systems budgets didn’t include end of pipe readings vis-à-vis external customers as yet.

Another organization was running motivational workshops for its staff even while top management had given clear indications that the organization would be down-sizing upto half its staff over the coming few months. The names of chose facing the axe had not yet been announced. Its good to feel motivated while waiting to lose your job.

Yet another organization had completed with pride an organization wide ERP system. The information technology head was ecstatic. However, it turns out that a lot of routine information is still sought and retrieved through the old telephone call and manual file route. But the ERP project is cited with pride in the annual report and everyone has easy access to a PC on a network.

Development sector organizations face an even more complicated task. In addition to functional investments, they have to compete with far more potent sound bytes. Such politically correct sound bytes include environment, gender,  empowerment, advocacy, anti-poverty  etc. (Try answering the question : “So you don’t believe ------ is important? Raise eyebrows and pitch when asking question and substitute any of the above words in the blank provided in the question). Programmes of large scale are developed around each of these themes. At the end of the programming period everyone is happy about such a huge initiative that conducted several hundred workshops, provided training, motivated “advocacy”, invited women to participate and expanded the tree cover. Typical answers on the progress of the programme will be, “ we have completed 20% of the activities listed in the plan”. In many instances, the poor still remained poor and when programme withdraws everything falls like a pack of cards.

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