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A clear picture of the organization’s overall performance and underlying strategic architecture provides valuable insights into how decisions should be guided. The first observation is that using financial outcomes to guide decisions is likely to be hopeless. Clearly, the immediate consequences must make sense: You do not want to spend what you cannot afford, or price your product so high as to kill current sales or so low as to destroy margin. But this is not strategic control.
A simple principle guides how strategic decisions should be viewed: Strategic managementA process concerned with the key objectives of an organization, the use of its resources, and enhancing the organization's performance in its environments. Flow rates are key aspects of an organization's strategies. is all about flow rates!
To appreciate the implications of this view, think about how our airline team might set a rule of thumb for its marketing spending. Some of the possibilities from which to choose include:
However, marketing directly affects just two main items: the frequency with which existing passengers travel with your airline and the rate at which new passengers are won. Marketing is not the only factor driving these values, but these values are the only significant things being driven by marketing! These, then, should be the focus of the decision rule for marketing because they are closely coupled to the decision variable.
The further you move away from this principle, the more likely it becomes that your decision rule will cause serious problems. It is astonishing, for example, how many organizations stick to “percent of sales” ratios to decide their spending on everything from research and development (R&D) to marketing, training, and maintenance. Just think how this would work for your restaurant:
You become trapped in a cycle of decline. This makes no sense, and in practice, managers usually avoid such foolish consequences. But why start with a decision guide that makes no sense in the first place? Pressure from investors who may not understand the structure of the strategic architecture often does not help.
So which performance metricsMeasures of the difference between an organization's targeted and actual performance. guide decisions best? Many organizations now use some form of balanced scorecard: an integrated approach to performance measurement and management (Kaplan & Norton, 1996). This recognizes that financial factors alone provide inadequate targets and incentives and so adds measures relating to
Only if these additional factors are in good shape will the firm deliver strong financial performance. The balanced scorecard offers important advances over traditional reporting approaches in recognizing the interconnectedness within the business and the importance of measuring and managing “soft” issues. Increasing training of staff about products, for example, will improve sales effectiveness, which in turn will improve sales and margins.
There are limits, though, to the control that a balanced scorecard can achieve if it is not designed to take account of the dynamic interactions that run through the organization’s architecture. There are two particularly common failings:
Management techniques often fail or fall from favor not because they are wrong, but because they are not used properly. Superficial work, done in the hope of a quick fix, is a common culprit. The extensive effort required by many otherwise sound methods is often not sustained. As senior managers instruct their people to undertake one initiative after another, none is carried to fruition before the next is begun. Initiative overload is a common cause of poorly implemented strategies.
Strategy dynamics—the basis of the approach in this book—will not work either if badly applied. It is a powerful but demanding approach that needs to be done professionally and thoroughly if accurate findings and good managerial responses are to be obtained. However, it is not typically more time-consuming or analysis-intensive than many planning processes that organizations put themselves through. Indeed, it often eliminates much activity, data processing, and analysis that would otherwise have been carried out.
Who should do this work? You and your team. Continuing management of today’s dynamically complex organizations in today’s dynamically complex markets and environments is not intuitively easy. For this reason, beware of consultants. Though many excellent professionals can carry out all kinds of demanding analysis and give exceedingly sound advice, few have had a thorough education or training in dynamic analysis. This is a tricky skill, and amateurs will usually get it wrong. Moreover, the need to review your performance dynamics will never go away. You cannot subcontract strategic leadership and you cannot subcontract strategic understanding.
The action checklist for this topic was already outlined, so in summary:
Note that this short book can only provide a summary of how this approach works for some simple business examples. For more extensive guidance on more complex situations, see Warren (2008) and http://www.strategydynamics.com.