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Strategy safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management

by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel
  This jargon-free guide sets out and critiques the ten major schools of strategic management thinking, each of which presents part of the story, and concludes by presenting as much of a complete picture as is possible.
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Strategy and Human Resource Management

Peter Boxall, John Purcell
  How is human resource management (HRM) strategic to a firm's viability and how might it help to lay a basis for sustained competitive advantage? How can managers pursue their goals for labour productivity and organisational flexibility in socially acceptable ways? This book explores such questions. The authors develop a conceptual framework to provide an exploration of the growing field of strategic HRM.
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Organizational Reality in Uncertain Times

Excerpt from Preventing Strategic Gridlock®: Leading Over, Under, & Around Organizational Jams to Achieve High Performance Results, by Pamela S. Harper

Gridlock doesn't occur only in traffic. It also happens in small, medium, and large companies in virtually every industry as they strive to advance their business strategies. In fact, even the savviest executives and boards seem to be finding that as they wind their way through the turbulent 21st century business landscape, it's easy to inadvertently drive their organizations smack into a situation that I call "strategic gridlock": the mysterious paralysis that occurs when persistent organizational problems snarl business performance.

Organizational Reality in Uncertain Times

The nagging pain of strategic gridlock is built upon a foundation of one or more common but mistaken assumptions that leaders make about their organization's reality. I define "Organizational Reality" as the complex web of internal and external factors that impact and are impacted by your company. These include not only the economic, financial, and business factors commonly accounted for in strategic thinking and planning, but also less quantitative circumstances, capabilities, cultural issues, and relationships that have just as profound an influence on business outcomes.

As I've consulted both internally and externally with top leadership teams in a wide range of industries, and as a business leader myself, I've found that these uncertain times make the risk of driving any size company into strategic gridlock greater than ever before. What do I mean by "uncertain times"? Now, more than ever before, massive advances in technology, communication, globalization, business climate, and social change add up to a dizzying mix of conditions that can make it difficult for us to know whether we're moving backward, forward, or sideways. With things changing so quickly, it's easy to make assumptions that overlook or underestimate critical pieces of our organization's reality and that can have a huge impact on how our strategies play out. For example, in contrast to times past, outsourcing and alliances are more commonplace; the boundaries of modern organizations frequently extend far beyond the employees on the payroll. Not only that, external and internal stakeholders of every type have unprecedented influence on setting direction. Because we are connected in so many ways, and there are so many factors acting on our organizations, it's more difficult than ever to rely upon our individual impressions of reality to guide us in making critical decisions. Since our organization is ultimately what transforms our strategies and initiatives into high performance, we must account for the unique mix of perceptions and factors that define organizational reality as it exists today before we commit to new courses of action to move toward our visions.

The good news is that strategic gridlock doesn't happen overnight. The bad news is that gridlock can be hard to detect until the organization's performance grinds to a halt, because the issues often grow incrementally. The creep towards strategic gridlock is also hard to catch because many business leaders view problems such as unexpected changes with customers, low product sales, and acquisition integration difficulties as isolated executional issues. In fact, by looking at patterns of events, it's frequently possible to trace these problems back to common themes.

The Strategic Gridlock Cycle

I've observed that gridlock builds in a cycle at strategic thinking planning and extending through execution. The cycle starts with a normal-enough identification of business objectives and strategies based on the company's vision and mission. However, if hidden roadblocks exist, they divert the strategies and subsequent initiatives, and lead to unanticipated problems. This reaction to rapidly fix the problems leads to more initiatives and actions, which more often than not run into still more hidden roadblocks, generating still more problems.

This cycle keeps building until the problems are fixed some way or another, or the gridlock becomes so bad that whoever is in control of the organization loses patience and steps in to solve the problem. Often, layoffs accompany this move. At its worst, the strategic cycle can lead to the company's demise through collapse or acquisition.

U.N.L.O.C.K.I.N.G.®-ing the Strategic Gridlock Cycle

To prevent and break out of the gridlock cycle, business leaders need to effectively integrate execution considerations with strategic thinking and planning, keeping in mind that what should work needs to be balanced with what will work for your unique organization. Too often, leaders conduct strategic thinking and planning without fully considering all six of what I call the "guidelines and principles of organizational reality". I've seen that when any of these principles and guidelines is omitted at the pivotal point of setting a company's direction, there is a higher risk of unexpected problems surfacing during execution.

I've developed a systematic process called "Preventing Strategic Gridlock®," which helps company leaders avoid hidden roadblocks and more smoothly integrate execution with strategic thinking and planning. I founded the process upon the six major principles and guidelines of organizational reality that I've identified, based on my experience and research. The principles and guidelines form the acronym U.N.L.O.C.K®:

U - Understand the Full Challenge
(because every organization's reality is unique and multi-faceted)

N - Negotiate Buy-in of Key Stakeholders
(because organizations accomplish only that which is valued by those who hold power)

L - Locate Cultural Advancers and Blockers
(because characteristics of an organization's culture that advance one strategy or initiative can block another)

O - Organize Relevant Priorities, Goals, and Action Plans
(because organizations respond s much to their reality as they do to their vision)

C - Communicate Credibly
(because an organization determines for itself if communication is credible, and acts accordingly)

K - Keep Adjusting
(because organization's reality changes continuously)

Putting It All Together

In this turbulent business landscape, none of us is immune from inadvertently driving our organizations into strategic gridlock. However, your organization's progress doesn't have to grind to a halt. You can take early steps to unlock and prevent this paralysis from happening. The systematic process of uncovering hidden roadblocks provides the missing link that leaders often leave out of the strategic thinking and planning process. Putting the process to work will better enable you to transform your strategies into high performance results required in today's high-pressure business environment.

Pamela Harper is president of Business Advancement Inc. She is a nationally known speaker and author of Preventing Strategic Gridlock® Leading Over, Under & Around Organizational Jams to Achieve High Performance Results (Cameo Publications, 2003). For more information, call (201) 612-1228 or go to

Strategy Articles and Books

Preventing Strategic Gridlock 

Preventing Strategic Gridlock: Leading Over, Under & Around Organizational Jams to Achieve High Performance Results

by Pamela S. Harper
Find out why strategies and initiatives that looked good during planning end up mysteriously snarled in a tangled web of persistent organizational problems ("strategic gridlock") during execution. - US dollars - Canadian dollars - British pounds - Euros - Euros

The Human Equation

The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First

Jeffrey Pfeffer
  Instead of cutting costs as a means to increase profits, companies should focus more on building revenue by relying on solid people-management skills. Through dozens of examples, Pfeffer demonstrates that successful companies worry more about people and the competence in their organizations than they do about having the right strategy. Pfeffer contends that the strategy part is relatively easy--it's the day-to-day execution that's hard. Companies that understand the relationship between people and profits are the ones that usually win in the long run.
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