Strategy is Everyone’s Job: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 27th, 2014 by bobmorris

Strategy Is Everyone's Job

Strategy is Everyone’s Job
Steven J. Stowell and Stephanie S, Mead
CMOE Press (2013)

How and why even a slight competitive advantage can be decisive for an organization…and a career

This is my favorite passage in Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

This passage from the Tao Te Ching creates an appropriate context for observations by Steve Stowell and Stephanie Mead: “Everybody can develop the ability to think, act, and contribute more over the long term by discovering a personal ‘strategic –contribution concept’: the ability to anticipate and exploit tomorrow’s opportunities today. We believe that organizations need people at all levels who can adapt to a changing environment, unlock value, and help their businesses be more competitive. In essence, we believe that strategy id everyone’s job.” Moreover, they believe that each manager inside the organization is running a small enterprise, a “business-within-a-business,” and “has stewardship over a bundle of resources and capabilities.”

Over the years, whenever retained to work a strategic planning team, I suggest that strategies by viewed as “hammers” that drive tactics viewed as “nails.” I also share with team members two quotes from Michael Porter (“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do” and Peter Drucker (“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”). In this context, I agree with Stowell and Mead that there is what they characterize as a “business-within-the-business” within any organization. If its strategies and tactics are not managed effectively internally, the organization will be managed – indeed controlled – by external forces. That said, as Drucker and Porter suggest, what is NOT done in the business-within-a-business is sometimes just as important as what is done.

Chapter 3 offers a case study of a fictional corporation (Galaxy) and a protagonist (Lee) that illustrate key points. The material focuses on several leadership challenges, the most important of which (in my opinion) is the need for middle management to think strategically (Big Picture, connecting organizational “dots,” ultimate objectives) as well as tactically (execution initiatives in day-to-day operations). In terms of developing a strategic mindset as well as utilitarian skills, managers must also be leaders, as Lee eventually realizes.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Stowell and Mead’s coverage.

o Strategic-Contribution Concept (Pages 2-3)
o What Is Strategy? (14-18)
o Galaxy Corporation: A Case Study (21-43)
o The Three Phases of Creating and Executing a Strategy (52-54)
o Survey Your Operation (57-64)
o “Nautical Adventure” (78-80)
o Lighting the Fire (109-114)
o Designing a Plan to Win (121-124)
o Executing the Strategy (126-130)
o Seven Leadership Principles (138-152)

There is indeed a “business-within-the-business” in any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Its success will probably be determined by how many of those involved are actively and productively involved with achieving the given strategic goals. Even a slight strategic edge in any one area can be decisive. With all due respect to the importance of leadership in the C-Suite, it is at least as important at all other levels.

This is probably what Steve Stowell and Stephanie Mead when suggesting, “Ask yourself what having a slight edge could do for you and your organization, As you set sail on your strategic journey, all you have to do is to realize the results you desire and make a difference in your organization is to find that slight strategic edge. We hope these ideas and tools will help you as you set sail on your pursuit of success.” My guess is, many of those who read this book will have already embarked on that voyage and now struggle to reach their destination.

More a quibble than a complaint, this book needs an index and one should be added if and when there is a new edition.

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