There are several advantages that a strategy brings to a company : clarity, purpose, objectives, resources allocations, timeframe, progress indicators… A strategy is by no means a guarantee for success but it provides a sense of direction that employees can relate to.
A few days ago, I had a meeting with Kelly, a manager in a web publishing company in London. I explained that one of the main problems businesses face today is the lack of communication between the executive level and the management level, i.e. between the captain of the ship and the engine room.
I suggested that the problem could in fact be easily fixed, if only the captain acknowledged it. Puzzled by the coincidence, Kelly said that she just came out of a strategy meeting that had been a total disaster because she, like the rest of the audience, did not understand the vision and what her role in delivering it was.
I couldn’t dream of a better illustration.
Associates, managers, employees must be enabled to put their work in perspective for a company to deliver its best effort. They must see the big picture. As colonel John Warden puts it “they must be able to think like an architect not like a brick-layer although they might actually be brick-layers”. Because when they do, they get a sense of being part of something larger that they can identify to. They feel valued and they use their best judgment to ensure that each of the bricks they lay is actually in the right place with the whole edifice in mind. They think strategically. They understand the strategy and they can make educated operational decisions with great consequences at strategic level. It is important that they do so because time is never on your side and anything that can be done to shorten the decision loop will bring you ahead of your competitors.
During the Libyan crisis, 100% of the attacks performed on Qaddafi’s troops were made from the air. Fast jets circled the skies above besieged Libyan cities in search of armed pick-ups and exhausted battle tanks. Part of the strategy was to ensure that no “collateral damages” were made because they would have been used by Qaddafi as an argument against the allies to discredit their action. It would have affected the cohesion of the coalition and could have put the whole operation in jeopardy. Although this was a very strategic matter, it was never kept at headquarters level. Quite the opposite in fact. Pilots in their cockpit were empowered to decide whether or not a potential target they had detected on the ground, was an acceptable target. They had been trained to measure and ponder several factors to help them determine the probability of inflicting collateral damage. Whilst flying they were in liaison with lawyers on the ground that helped them make the right assessment. Sometimes a very specific target would require the approval of a General to be hit but the overall intention was to put the decision to engage a target into the cockpit not in the headquarters back in Paris, London or Washington. Pilots understood the strategy and made decisions that had strategic effects although they operated at tactical level.
This is exactly what Kelly meant when she said that she wished she could make sense of the strategy so she could make educated decisions. But she could not. How many companies like Kelly’s have not understood the importance of training their people to think strategically?
About the author
Emmanuel is a mentor and a motivational speaker. He is passionate about leadership and strategy. He is a former fast jet pilot and senior officer.