Chapter Six


Webster: Strategy--an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.

The word strategy comes to us from the Greek word, strategos, strictly meaning a general in command of an army ( stratos, army; --ag, to lead). Over time strategos came to mean the "art of the general," which is to say the psychological and behavioral skills with which the leader occupied his/her position (Evered, 1983).

Today strategy has come to mean a pattern of decisions in an organization that determines and reveals its objectives, purposes, or goals, that produces the principal policies and plans for achieving those goals, and that defines the range of endeavors the organization is to pursue, the kind of economic and human organization it is or intends to be, and the nature of the economic and non economic contribution it intends to make to its stakeholders (Andrews, 1970).

In essence, a strategy is a set of decisions that together define the future direction of the organization.

The "rubber hits the road" in this phase of the common sense management process. In the last step, direction setting, you studied the critical issues facing the institution and began to generate ideas as to how the issues may be resolved so as to ensure that the institution is moving toward accomplishment of its vision.

These ideas coalesce into strategies, statements of broad approaches or methods for attaining goals and resolving critical issues. Strategy development requires that you consider as many creative alternative approaches as you can envision to meet future challenges. You must imagine many possible ways to conduct business and to use resources in the future, thereby exploring the range of choices available to the organization. You select those alternatives that appear most likely to fulfill your vision.

To reiterate, a strategy is a stated set of major approaches or means for meeting broad organizational goals while dealing with specific issues. Examples of strategy statements are:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive marketing program targeted to attract international students
  • Develop and implement a distance learning program.

Steps in the development of strategies are:

  1. Identify and articulate alternative strategies--a number of strategic options that deal with each critical issue.
  2. Evaluate alternatives and select preferred strategies--those that are most feasible for implementation.

Creativity is Key

To develop strategies, people must be given the opportunity to think in as freewheeling a fashion as possible in order to discover possibilities for meeting the challenges of each critical issue.

Common sense management encourages the use of group process throughout its implementation. Too often, however, group sessions create an atmosphere that discourages creativity. To avoid this, keep the following in mind as guidelines:

  • Never ridicule anyone's idea.
  • Always consider that what once was unacceptable may now be a good idea. Today may be a totally different ball game.
  • Avoid trying to guess what top leadership's current biases are, or trying to build strategies around these perceived biases.
  • Build on other people's ideas or on the parts of ideas that trigger new thinking.
  • Inject humor frequently. It's a great way to relieve stress and to encourage participants to relax.

Appendix 4 contains a recommended group problem-solving technique that can be employed to stimulate creativity.

Prepare Participants

Regardless of the process chosen to promote generation of creative alternative strategies, there are certain steps you can take to promote an effective session. To make sure that participants are adequately prepared, send them copies of the critical issue papers that describe the issues that will be the focus of the problem-solving activity. You might also consider sending them brief summaries of your environmental analysis and internal assessments. Make sure that participants have access to these market research efforts in case they want more information than appears in the summaries.

Also make sure that the meeting room is comfortable and that flipcharts, blackboards, scratch pads are available for participants' use.

If you decide to use a computer assisted decision-making laboratory at your organization or within your community, make sure that you familiarize participants with using the technology.

Vary Approaches

There are a variety of approaches you may use to structure the strategies-generation process. For example, you could form task groups and give each group a single issue to study and develop strategies for issue resolution. Or you could form a single group to study and develop strategies for all the issues. Or you could form multiple groups, and ask each to study and make strategy recommendations on all the issues. In the latter option, you may want to form a synthesis group to examine the recommendations for similarities and differences and formulate final recommendations.

Consider Various Techniques and Management Methods

A variety of techniques and methods of management have evolved over time and continue to be developed by schools of business, think tanks, and consulting firms. Some of the more widely used are MBO (management by objectives), zero based budgeting, total quality management, reengineering management, benchmarking, knowledge management, market migration analysis, mass customization, and strategic alliances.

Such techniques come into and go out of favor. Two examples in the late 1990s were total quality management and reeingineering. Each approach was widely touted to be the new formula for organizational success, and there were many success stories. Still, in just a few short years both fell out of favor as, in many cases, expected results did not materialize. The thing to keep in mind is that these approaches are not cure-alls. They should be applied in those circumstances where they can fix a problem in the organization or be used to take advantage of an organizational opportunity. No single method or technique is a complete management system.

It is in the strategy development phase of Common Sense Management that you examine the possible utility of these various techniques and management methods. (See Appendix 9 for a brief description of several of these techniques and management methods.) Select those that best apply to your situation and develop the strategy or strategies to utilize them to their best advantage.

Expand, Clarify, Elaborate Strategy Suggestions

You can expand participation in strategy generation through other means. Use surveys that describe critical issues and ask respondents for written strategy suggestions. Use the survey results as input to the group process.

As you generate strategy suggestions in response to each critical issue, it will become apparent that the crucial ingredients of each strategy are a combination of analysis, intuition, persistence, and synthesis. The strategies that emerge initially are generally neither clear-cut nor definite. Early ideas must be reworked a usable form. Discussing these first ideas may provide a means of getting to the heart of the issue and lead to uncovering the less obvious issues and conflicts. Group participants may begin with little understanding of an issue. Their understanding usually will deepen as the strategies are shaped. As they move through the process, participants may abandon earlier strategies and shift to other types of solutions, and new strategies emerge from the discussion.

For each strategy you develop, answer the following questions:

  • The rational--why would we want to do this?
  • The objective--what would we achieve by following this strategy?
  • The management actions that constitute the strategy--what decisions would we make if we adopted this strategy?
  • A rough schedule for implementing the strategy--what is the timing of the actions delineated by the strategy?
  • The general resources required to implement the strategy--how much money, people, and expertise is required to implement the strategy?

The answers to these questions clarify the strategy, and make apparent the differences between alternative strategies.

Selecting Preferred Strategies

If your process is truly creative you will generate a long list of strategy options--too many to be useful and some in conflict with others. Thus it will be necessary to hone the list down to preferred strategies.

There are a number of approaches you can use to narrow the list. Ask group participants to rank order the strategies from the most desirable to least desirable. Select those in the top 20%, or the top six or seven strategies.

A better way to select preferred strategies is to subject the strategies to analysis. Work done by George Day (1986) provides a framework for such an analysis by specifying the following criteria to examine each strategy. This allows a "first-cut" at narrowing down the strategy options.

  • Suitability
  • Validity
  • Feasibility
  • Consistency
  • Vulnerability
  • Timing
  • Adaptability
  • Uniqueness
  • Usability

The following (Figure 6-1) is a checklist using these criteria for strategy evaluation.

Figure 6-1
Figure 6-1. Criteria Selection Checklist

A "second-cut" means of further narrowing to a set of preferred strategies is to examine the first-cut selections in light of their feasibility for implementation.

The relative feasibility of possible strategies can be assessed through a comparative rating of each according to a series of criteria:

  • Resource requirements

Additional funds required
Increased space/facilities required
Increased manpower required
Intraorganizational cooperation and coordination required

  • Political disincentives

Interferes with existing authority
Reduces number of jobs/worsens job conditions
Lacks support of external groups, advocacy groups, or individuals
Implemented by organizational unit with poor reputation
Inconsistent with voiced public opinion
Lacks short-term payoff, demonstrable benefits
Requires policy changes

  • Institutional change requirements

Modification of staff behavior or skills required
Changes in organizational structure required
Lack of adaptability to organizational agenda

  • Technical components

Special personnel or training required
Technological innovation required
Projects illusion of technical complexity

For each criterion, a positive assessment is a potential barrier to implementation. A strategy with a lot of positives for these criteria may have a limited potential for successful implementation. It should be noted, however, that while a positive assessment might seem to be a barrier (e.g., the need for additional funds) the probability of acquiring those funds may be very high. The same is true for most of these criteria, so in using this assessment keep in mind that overcoming a potential barrier might be the right thing to do. The key is to use common sense, eliminating only those where the barrier might be too high to hurdle (Human Services, 1981).

At this point you narrow the strategy alternatives down to a small set of preferred ones--first by using a wide range of criteria, and then by examining their feasibility for implementation. The resulting strategies are those you will implement. While the preferred strategies respond to one critical issue, at this stage you may note that the same or similar strategies are proposed for other issues. If this happens, you should integrate the strategies, making sure that it is clearly understood how the resulting single strategy responds to more than one issue.

Establish Objectives

For each preferred strategy establish an outcome, an objective, at a point in time. You establish this from your early work in defining the strategy (i.e., what we hope to accomplish and by when).

For example, if your strategic goal is to increase enrollment, your strategy may be to develop and implement a distance learning program, the objective being to have 2,000 students in the program within five years. Spelling out specific objectives provides direct guidance to those charged with strategy implementation.

Framing the Strategic Plan

At this point of the common sense management process you create the strategic plan. It can be as simple as a one pager or much more comprehensive. The primary use of this document is for educational and presentation purposes. It should contain at a minimum the statements of mission, vision, strategic goals, objectives, strategies and a preliminary budget. Some plans include a description of the process undertaken, brief summaries of the environmental scan and of the internal analysis, and the key critical issues. In any event, it may be useful to write both a simplified plan (without the budget) for general distribution and a more comprehensive one to distribute to your internal stakeholders. Appendix 10 contains examples of simple and comprehensive strategic plans.

Once the "plan is approved" the next step of the common sense management process is strategy implementation. See Figure 6-2 for a graphic depiction of the strategy development process.

Figure 6-2
Figure 6-2. The strategy development process