Strategic Learning LO19838

Fred Nickols (
Fri, 13 Nov 1998 16:16:43 -0500

Replying to Mark Feenstra in LO19808 --

>A weakness of strategic planning relative to strategic learning is that it
>tends to assume the capacity of an organization to materialize its
>strategic intentions in an uncertain environment.

If your reference to "strategic planning" is to what most people I know
would term "conventional" or "classic" strategic planning (e.g., strategic
planning a la George Steiner), I would agree with you, which is reportedly
the reason Jack Welch broke up GE's staff of strategic planners when he
took over as head of GE.

However, just as there are many meanings of "strategy" there are also
several views of strategic planning, only one of which fits the "classic"
or "conventional" label. Even the conventional or classic model has much
much to offer in times of uncertainty. An assessment of strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats (the classic "SWOT" analysis) is
still a useful exercise for many companies. Moreover, if we take the
following views of strategy, each calls forth its own version of
"strategic" planning:

Strategy as deployment of resources (with tactics referring
to their employment). In businesses, this ties most directly
to resource allocation, in particular, capital allocations.
Even in uncertain times, these decisions must be made and
they are best made through some kind of planning effort.

Strategy as position (closely linked to competitive strategy).
All businesses must decide on the industries and markets in
which they will operate and the products and services they
will offer. This, too, entails a form of strategic planning.
In Jack Welch's case, I believe he set an additonal parameter
of No 1, No 2 or out.

Strategy as a pattern that emerges from actions and decisions.
"Emergent strategy" as it is called has to be deduced from
examining patterns. By definition, it is not something that
consciously governs choices and decisions until after the
pattern has crystalized. It's a form of hindsight that might
or might not be useful as one moves forward from the point of
recognition. That aside, whatever is shaping actions and
decisions is operating in times of uncertainty, too.

Additional possibilities exist but it is not my intent to explore them
here. My point is that uncertainty does not relieve managers of the
obligation to plan for the future and at least some of that planning
rightfully warrants the label "strategic." Uncertainty certainly
complicates decision making but it doesn't make the requirement to decide
go away.

>I am not proposing that there are not other useful
>models of learning and/or strategy. Rather that when times are uncertain
>an experiential or action learning approach has much to recommend it when
>it comes to strategy.

I agree.



Fred Nickols Distance Consulting (609) 490-0095

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