In 1979 Konosuke Matsushita, founder of National Panasonic and one of Japan’s most successful industrialists told an audience of business leaders in Tokyo that “business as we know, is so complex and difficult, the survival of organisations so hazardous in an environment increasingly unpredictable, competitive and fraught with danger, that their continued existence depends on their ability to constantly change through effective leadership and the mobilisation of every ounce of intelligence.”
In the years that followed many western companies heeded his words and embraced his doctrine of change and continuous improvement through “Whole Organization” engagement and empowerment in an attempt to eliminate waste and inefficiency and raise quality standards in order to be better placed to compete more effectively with their Japanese counterparts. Something of a renaissance took place as many companies abandoned traditional scientific management practices which were largely based on command-and-control techniques and which had been rigidly enforced by a plethora of systems, processes, procedures and policies. What evolved and eventually replaced it was a more collaborative approach based on engagement, empowerment and delegation underpinned by the deployment of a Transformational Leadership style. This quest for effective organizational leadership rather than management has quite rightly continued to this day.
However, and somewhat strangely, in many organizations this collaborative approach to organizational development and sustainability often does not seem to include the process of strategy formulation and design. It is as if this is the exclusive domain of a handful of people at the very summit of an organization who regard themselves as the only employees capable of or with the capacity to understand long-term strategic thinking. In this type of organization, the extent of engagement in strategy design often manifests itself in the form of C-Suite Executives instructing departments to mundanely populate spreadsheets with figures (rather than facts) on what they anticipate they will achieve, providing of course that it meets the expectations of the larger corporate plan into which, in all likelihood they did not have any input and in many cases had not even been shared with them. This in turn suggests that these very same executives are of the belief that only they can be trusted with or need to have full knowledge or even sight of the organization’s strategy.
In cases like this and as business becomes more complex and competitive one is left questioning whose vision, mission, core values and objectives went into such a strategy and is it realistic or merely a dream? Furthermore, how can employees be expected to have the same passion about and ownership of the strategy as those who thought of it and subsequently imposed it upon them? Is this restrictive and at times, secretive culture one of the reasons why so many business strategies fail? Peter Drucker, the eminent management consultant offered us a clue some years ago when he stated that “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast”.
Any modern-day corporate strategy should have as its primary focus and aim the establishment of a sustainable competitive advantage brought about by a commitment to change and continuous improvement and the way to achieve that is through engagement and empowerment. Einstein once said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and it has been proven time and again that if employees are engaged and empowered then they will use their imagination for innovation which, in turn and supported by a culture of effective leadership will provide them with inspiration and they will then be far more motivated to carry it forward to implementation and also be far more likely to embrace the change that will inevitably be required of them. The equation is simple but effective: Imagination + Innovation + Inspiration = Implementation.
Over the last thirty years we have witnessed the spectacular rise of many high-performance organizations, particularly in the new economy and creative sectors, and almost without exception they operate with this ethos with regard to strategy design. It has resulted in a culture within which there is a passion for growth and change, to be the first and different, innovation is regarded as a core competency with encouragement for new ideas fuelled by intense curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit and constant anticipation of emerging needs. This respect for peoples’ minds as their most important asset has allowed innovative strategies to literally “bubble up” from almost anywhere in such organizations.
These organizations succeed because they have clearly defined what “Winning” looks like and they have connected their people to the “Big Picture” and in the process developed an ownership mentality within them. As a consequence, they have improved performance through transparency and increased performance through engagement. Quite simply, everyone makes the strategy; everyone knows the strategy and everyone owns the strategy.
Organizations, as we know only too well are operating in a time of uncertainty trying “to do more with less” and they simply cannot afford any longer to think of “business as usual”. With regard to strategy design it certainly is the time, somewhat belatedly, for all organizations to finally accept and implement Matsushita’s call to “mobilise every ounce of intelligence”.
Nigel H. Tomlinson.
Nigel is a Leoron Board Member and Head of Practice for Leadership, Management & Administration courses. He is also an Associate Lecturer for London School of Business & Finance and has a career that spans almost 40 years in international business and corporate international investment. Currently, he holds the position of non-executive director/advisor and innovation specialist. Nigel has led many companies into success including the Sheffield Chamber, which has won various awards on the national, European and world stage.