Lafley & Martin: Managing the Strategic Dialogue (1)

This is the 7th post in a series about Lafley & Martin’s book “Playing to Win”. As we have seen so far, the book plays out a model for firms to make strategic decisions to gain sustainable advantage. The key idea is that each of the decisions to be made is linked to all of the others. they create together a package.

We have moved through (1) formulating a “winning intention”, (2) deciding where to play, (3) deciding how to win, and (4) deciding what resources are needed. We are now ready to ask what type of management is needed to make this work?

L&M start off with a sobering comment – this last question is “… the most neglected”. Too often management just broadcasts messages about strategy rather than support its implementation. This means fostering a team approach – dialogue instead of presentations.

These means that systems for making and reviewing strategy should do away with “overviews” and long presentations about what happened in the prior period. Instead, the discussions should be focused on a few major issues with questions to discuss in order to benefit the staff who will implement whatever is decided. This produces better strategic implementation as well as promoting better thinking at the staff level.  The key is that strategy review is linked to regular updating of the questions that had been asked in strategy development and the answers that had been relied upon so far.

This also requires a re-think of how to communicate. The old fashioned way to do strategy review is for the doers to advocate their approach. L&M think a better way to communicate is “assertive inquiry” (using the thinking of Harvard’s Chris Argrys). this blends advocacy of your position with exploring the thinking of others.  It sounds something like this “I have a view to advance, but I may be missing something …”This means advocating views as a possibility rather than a certainty. And it means listening carefully  and asking questions about alternative views in order to assess if indeed you are missing something.

The three tools to do this are

  1. advocating your position and inviting responses by others
  2. paraphrasing the views of others and asking if the paraphrasing is accurate
  3. explaining your understanding of any gaps in the reasoning of the arguments of others and asking for more informatoin

To get the discussion going, one needs a tool to “frame” what will be discussed. The traditional OGSM (Objectives, goals, strategy, and measures ) can meet this need. But the strategy section needs to match the format of iterative questions that comprise it

That’s it for this post. Next up, we will focus on (1) how management should communicate its strategic themes to the company, systems to support core capabilities, and measurement of desired outcomes.

Onward!

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