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Resolve as strategy It is not the strategy but the implementation David Creelman
The strategies of established companies in any given industry often look the same. This appals strategy professors who passionately argue that companies need a unique strategy that enables ďenduring competitive advantage.Ē Dr. David Maister is more forgiving. The similarity of strategies is simply a fact, one to be understood not fussed over. Besides, Maister points out, few companies implement their strategy anyway.
Most professors and consultants make their living by being really smart, but Maisterís view is that lack of intelligence usually isnít the problem. Itís often not hard to figure out what the company needs to do. Maister is unique in not then shifting the blame to execution. The actual execution is often so complicated either. The heart of the issue is a question of heart - we donít really want to do the things our smart brain tells us we should do.
Maisterís new book is called Strategy and the Fat Smoker because he thinks the challenges of running a company are not so different from the challenges of being a fat smoker. Fat smokers know what the winning strategy is: eat less, exercise more, and quit smoking. The trouble is that they donít really want to do it. They donít want to give up the short term comforts for the good of their long term health. Fat smokers, like CEOs and HR leaders, are simply human.
This means that at the heart of strategy is not what the company should do, but what it has the resolve to do. If a company intends to be a great place to work then you need to ask if it is willing to fire managers who persistently get poor ratings from the staff. If not then, as Maister points out, there is no shame is deciding to be an ok place to work instead of a great one. Itís better to accept that modest goal of being ďokĒ rather than pretend you are aiming at a goal the company isnít resolved to achieve.
There are two places these ideas are relevant for HR. One is in your own HR strategy; you ought to assess the resolve within your own department to do the things you say you are going to do. The other is to use this concept to help management understand if they will or will not be successful when they say they want to do something.
When advising management on strategy HR leaders can say, ďWeíre not experts on marketing or products but we are experts in how organizations function and we know that frequently organizations donít have the resolve to carry out their strategy.Ē The way to test for resolve is to ask the hard questions.
For example, if management says they want to delight their customer will they then change the sales commission structure so that commissions are only given on sales that result in happy customers? If not then maybe the idea of delighting customers isnít the right strategy to pursue because the companyís heart isnít really in it. Once we realize that a critical element of strategy is resolve we can then focus on how to improve resolve. Again we can learn from fat smokers. One thing fat smokers need is on-going encouragement from their friends. Similarly, companies need champions who will cheer the company on as it faces the inevitable temptations to cut some corners on a challenging commitment.
It can also be helpful to publicly announce your goal and progress towards the goal. A smoker who publishes how many days they have gone without a cigarette will be more likely to stay the course than one who feels they can get away with sneaking just one cigarette in secret. A company that publishes its absenteeism rates is more likely to reduce absenteeism than one where that data is private.
Maisterís secret is recognizing that organizations are human places, not the flawless machines we like to pretend them to be. We can learn a lot from strategy gurus, but we can learn a lot from fat smokers too.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and advice on human-capital management. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the U.S., Japan, Canada and China.