Strategy: The Brains of Your Organization

For many years, organizations tended to focus on efficiency rather than strategy. Think of the classic Ford assembly line model: workers were not expected to think or analyze, but rather to produce as much as they could within the smallest window of time. This was a revolutionary idea that allowed industry to boom in the 20th century. But today’s organizations need more from their employees than the competent completion of rote tasks; they need them to be the brains of the company.

Juan Carlos Eichholz identifies five key variables that determine how effectively organizations are able to strategize in Adaptive Capacity:

  1. Awareness of changes in the environment in which the organization operates
  2. Reflection on these changes and how to react to them
  3. Involvement of a wide variety of individuals in formulating a response
  4. Experimentation with new strategies
  5. Simplicity in terms of ease of articulation and communication

If we return to the analogy of the human body, awareness is akin to observing the symptoms of an illness. A doctor cannot determine an effective treatment without seeing the patient and how the illness presents.

The next step is reflection, in which the doctor interprets the patient’s symptoms and draws conclusions about what the problem is and which medicine will be most effective in treating it. This kind of work takes expertise, which is why it’s important that you involve your best people at this stage of strategizing. Reflection takes discussion, experience and a certain measure of creativity.

Once the problem has been identified, experimentation is key. A doctor will often try several different combinations of treatments before settling on the best one for the patient. Organizations cannot adapt without experimenting. As Eichholz says, “an essential part of strategic thinking must be running as many experiments as possible . . . It is not about running experiments that will put the whole company at risk or that contradict what is essential to it. It is about running experiments that will let people learn and thrive by testing new approaches to products, services, business models, systems, processes or practices.”

Finally, once you do establish a strategy to react to changing circumstances, it’s important to simplify it as much as possible. If you can’t explain your strategy in terms that everyone in your organization can understand, that’s a good sign that it’s overly complex. Simple strategies are often more effective because they can be adapted more easily and allow for more flexible responses.

Working with a coach is a great way to ensure that your strategy is communicated effectively to all employees. Executive coaches can facilitate each stage by helping to ensure that everyone feels included and that each stage progresses smoothly.

What’s your organization’s core strategy? Do you sometimes struggle to define that strategy? If so, let’s get in touch. You can reach me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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