Instead of a Cloud Atlas, which no one takes any notice of, the Strategic Plan must identify ideas that contribute to turning the company into what it wants to be.
Instead of being one minor activity, Innovation management must confirm that the Strategy remains valid in a rapidly changing environment.
And John, Director of Strategy and Operations, sighs, and turning to the rest of the Steering Committee, with a sombre face announces to them:
The role of the plan
Perhaps this - not so imaginary- situation that we have just described is not totally unfamiliar to the reader. That uneasiness when team members recognize deep down that they wouldn't be able to repeat what the Strategic Plan says. They haven’t consulted it since that presentation meeting attended by "all those who could". In fact everyone thinks that, like the Bible, they have never read it in its entirety. If it wasn’t for the call of the consultants, nobody would have been bothered about it.
Apart from saying that "we have a Plan," what purpose has the Strategic Plan served? Has it had any real influence in the decision-making process? Has everyone taken on board, from the Board down to the latest worker to join? And in practice, what does it mean that they have taken it on board? All of us can recall having heard phrases here and there about "permeation of the Plan to all levels of the organization...". Yes. Ok. But... And in practice what does that mean?
In a turbulent world, changing at high speed, how often should you review the Strategic Plan to ensure it is up-to-date? It is not my aim to initiate a discussion on the validity of the Plan. That’s a matter for each individual. There are gurus who say that it is not possible to maintain it, that "the Plan is dead". Especially in certain sectors.
On the other hand, I would like to ask the reader if the title of John as "Director of Strategy and Operations" has attracted their attention. I know that it is very common. But it continues to make me think of questions when I hear it. "Strategy and operations"... It is as if the Chief Engineer of the boat had also ordered the course to be plotted. That only happens in a one-man boat. Why then is the person responsible for optimization and proper conduct of operations assigned the strategy too? Why have I never seen the title "Strategy and Sales"? Perhaps it would be too much of a customer-oriented organization... and forgive me for the irony.
The importance of the ideas
For some reason "Director of Strategy" sounds more important than "Director of Innovation", which too often is assigned to a person with much less operational capacity in the company. A lesser rank is usually assigned to innovation management. However, all my interlocutors agree that the ideas that we put into practice - or reject - nowadays define what the company will be in 4 or 5 years time
But... Are the ideas that make their way into the company the ones which best contribute to implementing the strategy?
The process of innovation management, taking ideas to their final destination should be based on the company's strategy.
Instead of a Cloud Atlas, which no one takes any notice of, the Strategic Plan should help to identify ideas that contribute most to turning the company into what it wants to be.
It is possible that eventually we realize that we tend to promote ideas that are not the ones that contribute the most to the strategy. Clearly we don't want to go to where the strategy had taken us when it was designed. At that point we must ask ourselves if the Strategic Plan has become outdated, overtaken by a reality that we can see.
Above and beyond: What would happen if someone who participates in the maturation of an innovative idea is faced with weighing in on how it fits into the Strategic Plan? In my experience, the result is that in a few weeks, and because of practice, everyone has engraved on their subconscious the guidelines for corporate strategy.
We could assume that the strategy precedes innovation management, as yet another factor of that management. But let's not discount the influence of the innovation strategy:
- On the one hand as a mechanism for implementation of that strategy.
- On the other hand, as an element of validation of the effectiveness of the corporate strategy itself.
In practice, ideas move the world. And our company too.
(Cloud Atlas is a film by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers)
By Miguel Borrás
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