Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape

by Michael G. Jacobides, Harvard Business Review; January- February 2010.

Engaging, or perhaps re-engaging, employees in strategy discussions is the focus of a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review. If you’ve ever sat through a tiresome PowerPoint loaded with graphs and spreadsheets meant to simulate strategic direction, you may identify with its main point: the way we discuss strategy needs to change.

The author asserts that we live in an environment of incessant change. Maps are for a static world; they are outdated for engaging others in developing and communicating strategy.

This article promotes narrative as a possible solution. Narratives are more potent then quantitative analysis because they allow employees to focus not just on the change but also on the causes of change. Plots, subplots and characters help companies develop their strategy and refine it both within and outside of the firm.

When losing the plot, a company needs to rewrite the play-script. For example, in the mid-1990’s advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi reinvented its approach by partnering with their clients to create so-called ‘lovemarks’ or brands that command “loyalty beyond reason.” This approach allowed them to get more automatic renewals from clients who wouldn’t consider opening their account to outside bidders.

Pharmaceutical companies are rewriting their scripts, too. Novartis and AstraZeneca are slowly weaning themselves from patents. They are cementing their relationships with health care providers in a bid to learn more about patients, which enables them to be on the same playing field as competitors offering cheaper drugs.

To develop your company’s play-script, start by setting the scene where your company operates. Identify the other characters, roles, motivations and the relationships among the actors. These steps will help to predict how the current narrative could play out.

Next, rewrite your role. Consider alliances that may help you transform your part into a central character. Finally, take steps to ensure that the new play-script is flexible enough to evolve with time.

To be certain that your company can actually implement this new play-script, the author of this piece issues an important caveat. Like all strategy discussions – no matter what the medium – the play-script will only be as valuable as the ability of the company’s employees to understand and act upon it.

You can order the full article at: www.hbr.org

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