Strategic Lenses

Organisations strategic issues are commonly analysed from different strategy lenses. Strategic lenses are a concept of strategic management. The lenses are different ways of viewing strategy development. It examines the flow of tasks and information, or how you get things done. Each lens reveals many different traits and qualities. Using the strategic lens, one looks to optimize workflow to meet the goals and objectives of the company. This article a will cover four angles from which strategy can be viewed and implemented on a corporate level; they are strategy as design, strategy as experience, strategy as ideas and strategy as discourse.

1. Strategy as a Design

This takes the view that strategy development can be a local process in which the forces and constraints on the organisation are weighted carefully through analytic and evaluative techniques to establish clear strategy direction. This creates conditions in which carefully planned strategy implementation should occur. They are rationally, thoroughly researched, analytically considered strategies made by experts.

It is top-down approach to strategic decision making. It takes no input from manager involved in day to day operations. Strategic decisions are imposed on them, they may resent this approach. It is suitable in fast and rapidly changing environment where decision making is separate from implementation.

It is suitable where major cultural change required and where employees input is of less important or they are not able to give their inputs may be because of lack of knowledge and willingness. It can be used where close-control is necessary and where employee turn-over is higher.

Typically underpinning a design approach to strategy development are these:

First in terms of how strategic decisions are made:

  • Careful analysis can identify those most likely to influence the organization significantly.
  • This analysis provides a basis for strategic positioning: that is, the matching of organizational strengths and resources with the changes in the environment of the organization so as to take advantage of opportunities and overcome or circumvent threats.
  • This analytic thinking precedes and governs action.
  • Objectives are clear and probably explicit, there is careful and thorough analysis of the factors internal and external to the organization that might affect its future and inform management about the strategic position of the organization,
  • There are tools and techniques that enable managers to understand the nature and impact of the environment an organization faces, competences, influencing power, organizational culture and links to strategy.

The design lens also makes assumptions about the form and nature of organizations:

  • Organizations are hierarchies tops management who take important decisions and lower management who implement the strategy
  • Organizations are rational systems. Organizations are seen as analogous to engineered systems or, perhaps, machines.
  • Organizations are mechanisms by which strategy can be put into effect.
  • This system can be controlled in a rational way too. Control systems (e.g. budgets, targets, appraisals).

Implication For Management

Managers often see strategy about their organizations, and that as the design lens suggest that’s because of:

  • Strategy is about planning and analyzing.
  • The design lens provides the basis of an approach to managing complexity that is logical and structured.
  • Important stakeholders may expect and value such an approach.
  • Rationality is deeply rooted in our way of thinking and in our systems of education.
  • We live in a time of computer technology, global communication.

The design lens is useful in thinking through and planning strategy. It is useful but not sufficient.

2. Strategy as Experience

Here the view is that future strategies of organisations are heavily influenced by the experience of the managers and others in the organisation based on their previous strategies. Strategies are driven not so mush by clear-cut analysis as by the taken-for-granted assumptions and ways of doing things embedded in the culture of organisations.

It is bottom-up approach to strategic decision making. Those involved in day to day operation contribute their experience. It requires negotiation or bargaining with lower level employees. It has no risk of resentment on the part of employees because they are involved in the process.

It is suitable in stable, taken-for-granted cultural assumptions are dominant, employees are knowledgeable, committed to work. It is strategy based on historical information. Strategies are extension or modification of previous strategies based on their outcome. It can cause business being failed to take account of the changes in environment which can be best identified at senior level and thus fail to respond to changing business needs. It can be adopted in well-established organizations or business have recently being taken-over with owners does not have knowledge and experience of the business.

The experience lens views strategy development as the outcome of individual and collective experience of people in organizations who influence strategy or make strategic decisions and the taken-for-granted assumptions.

  • Individual Experience and Bias: Individual experience can be explained in terms of the mental (or cognitive) models people build over time to help make sense of their situation. When managers face a problem they make sense of it in terms of the mental models which are the basis of their experience. The same mental models, the same experience, can lead to bias. People, managers included, make sense of new issues in the context of past issues; they are likely to address a problem in much the same way as they dealt with a previous one seen as similar. The reasons of this are; Cognitive bias is inevitable, the future is likely to be made sense of in terms of the past, and Bargaining and negotiation between influential individuals.
  • Collective Experience and Organizational Culture: Organizational culture is the ‘basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic taken-for-granted fashion an organization’s view of itself and its environment’.

Implication For Management

  • Managers’ understanding of the strategic position of their organization and, indeed, the strategy followed by that organization is likely to be heavily informed by such collective experience. Managers therefore need to be aware that the views of their colleagues on strategic issues – indeed their own views too – are inevitably influenced by such experience. Questioning and challenging such taken-for granted experience is of key strategic importance in strategic management.
  • Major problems can arise if significant strategic change is needed.
  • Thinking about how to build innovatory and ‘learning organizations’ is an important strategic consideration.

In summary, the experience lens provides a view of organizations as cultures within which people make decisions about or influence strategy on the basis of their cognitive (or mental) models and established ways of doing things (or routines).

3. Strategy as Ideas

Neither of the above lenses is especially helpful in explaining innovation. Then how do ideas come about? The ideas lens emphasizes the importance of promoting diversity in and around organisations, which can potentially generate genuinely new ideas.

It is approach requires innovation. These ideas can emerge from any level or anywhere in the organization. It requires encouragement to employees to give their views and suggestions and a mechanism to accommodate these ideas into strategy.

It is suitable in unpredictable macro-environment, where ability to respond to unforeseen situations is required. It can be used organization developing new product or breaking into different markets. It can be used in innovative industries where innovation is the key to success. E.g. telecommunication industry and fashion industry. It can also be used in newly established business where owners as well as employees have little previous knowledge and experience. They can benefit from pooling of knowledge and experience.

Ideas lens is helpful in explaining the sources and conditions that help generate innovation in organizations; it sees strategy as the emergence of order and innovation from the variety and diversity which exists in and around organizations.

The design lens provides a view of organizations as systems or machines and the experience lens as cultures. The ideas lens provides a view of organizations as akin to organisms living within an environment.

Importance of Variety

Variety potentially exists for all organizations at different levels and in different forms. There is an ever-changing environment, there are different types of businesses, there is a variety of different groups and individuals and their experience and ideas within an organization and there are deviations from traditional ways of doing things. Such variety and its spawning of change at different levels mutually reinforce itself.

Creating Context

The evidence is that innovation comes, not from the top, but quite likely from low down in an organization. People interpret issues in different ways according to their experience and may come up with different ideas based on personal experience. Such ideas may not be well formed or well informed and, at the individual level at least, they may be very diverse. The greater the variety of experience, the more likely there will be innovation. However, it may be possible for managers to foster new ideas and innovation by creating the context and conditions where they are more likely to emerge because there is sufficient variety within and around the organization for them to do so. This might be achieved in different ways. First, by considering what the appropriate boundaries are for the organization:

  • The more the boundaries between the organization and its environment are reduced, the more innovation is likely to occur.
  • Within organizations what matters is interaction and cooperation to encourage variety and the spread of ideas.
  • An organization that seeks to ensure that its people are in contact with and responsive to a changing environment is likely to generate a greater diversity of ideas and more innovation than one that does not.
  • If innovation matters, questioning and challenge is more important than consensus.
  • Experimentation. Some organizations have formal incentive programs to encourage experimentation.
  • The temptation of managers is to try to clarify and direct.

Adaptive Tension and Simple Rules

High levels of control and strict hierarchy are likely to encourage conformity and reduce variety. So the more elaborate and bureaucratic the top-down control, the less likelihood of innovation. Establishing appropriate levels of control therefore becomes crucial. Some complexity theorists argue that innovation and creativity emerge when there is sufficient order to make things happen but not when there is such rigidity of control as to prevent such innovation. This is the idea of ‘adaptive tension’ or ‘edge of chaos.

The argument is that such simple rules act as guiding principles of behavior, patterns of which form into consistent strategic directions. these order generating rules have come to be known as ‘simple rules’.

Implication For Management

  • Environmental sensitivity: It is not possible for top management to know or understand and plan the future.
  • Creating context rather than plans: innovation will not be achieved by determining ‘tight’ strategies and control systems. It is more likely to be managed by creating forms of organization and cultures of organization which encourage variety and informal networking.
  • Imperfection matters: new ideas are unlikely to emerge ‘fully formed’ – indeed they may be the result of ‘imperfect copying’. Managers have to learn to tolerate such imperfection and allow for failures if they want innovation.

4. Strategy as Discourse

This lens sees strategy in terms of language. Managers spend most their time communicating. Companies communicate their strategies by presenting year reports, vision statements or press releases. Managers and shareholders debate about strategy when they discuss the future of the firm. We can see strategies as stories, including a beginning (the present) and an end (a successful future). Therefor command of strategy language becomes a resource for managers by which to shape ‘objective’ strategic analysis to their personal views and to gain influence, power and legitimacy.

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