I am not sure how you have been managing your time during these past seven weeks. Because I am now “semi-retired”, I have taken the opportunity to read and refresh my earlier learnings over the past almost forty years on leadership, management, and strategy, while focusing on completing some studies in executive and leadership coaching.
What has struck me is that in this time of turbulent change, particularly in human services delivery right now where the impact of COVID-19 is taking its toll, is that many theories about leadership, management, strategy, and human resources management, actually have not changed, and likely do not need to. Sometimes the “old” fundamentals are as reliable as granite …
In his now famous, and dated article, Henry Mintzberg defined as a plan, ploy, pattern, position or perspective (Mintzberg, 1987, The Strategy Concept I: Five Ps For Strategy). Mintzberg described:
- Strategy as a Plan: This is the most common way that strategy is viewed. Yet, transactional planning, and not strategic planning, is something which the vast majority of managers are familiar with. Transactional planning is the natural approach to various day-to-day tasks and activities, and how you manage your own work and that of your team. This is often, therefore, the default approach we take to developing organisational strategy – we brainstorm a number of options, whittle these down to those which are actually viable, and then plan how we are going to put these into action. Such planning is fine as the basis for organisational strategy, however on its own, it is not adequate to develop the full, well-rounded strategy that your organisation may need to fulfil its potential. This is where the other Ps can be used in collaboration with planning to maximise results.
- Strategy as a Ploy: Ploy refers to activities which are actively dependent on the actions of others. Organisations can get themselves ahead of competitors by plotting to influence them in various ways, such as through dissuasion, disruption and discouragement. This can be utilised alongside a plan and helps the organisation to look externally at its environment and other operating within it whilst developing strategy. For example, a business could open a new branch in a specific, developing area, in order to stop a competitor business opening there and tapping into the new market. For this to succeed, the leader needs to be competent in identifying and analysing future opportunities which may develop, predicting the actions of competitors, and understand how the effects of organisational activity may affect afore-mentioned competitors. This is a great time to employ serious “what if” scenario building thinking.
- Strategy as a Pattern: Strategies can sometimes emerge from past organisational behaviour, from unexpected events, or just from accidentally discovering which actions work. These emergent strategies are not a conscious choice, instead, they are the result of discovering a consistent and successful way of doing business. They can often develop incrementally by building on many small decisions made and solutions found. The leader is not aiming to gain a strategic advantage by making good decisions – but often they find themselves with one. Understand the behaviours that are displayed within your organisation, and how specific, important tasks are handled, and functions are operated. Consider if these behaviours are part of an informed strategic plan, or if they are just part of the routine? Are they positively integral to “how we do things around here”? If the answer to these seems to be a yes, you may have discovered some strategic patterns that have become part of the DNA of the organisation. Systems and structures that are helpful to the organism known as your business.
- Strategy as a Position: This aspect of strategy as a position focuses on how the organisation wants to portray itself in the market, what niche to take, how to be perceived by consumers to gain the so desired competitive edge. Questions that should be considered when working on this position perspective of the Five Ps of strategy model include:
- What is the unique selling proposition (USP) of the organisation?
- What are the benefits of the services your organisation offers?
- What is the organisation’s overall brand strength?
Positioning, even differentiation outside the “productivity frontier”, can also be viewed in terms of your sales method, your product quality, pricing, and more. According to Mintzberg’s Five Ps model of strategic management, your positioning should be intentional and strategic in nature, as well as based on thorough market research. Porter (1990) contends that operational effectiveness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for market leadership. Strategic positioning is the vital element that will take an organisation outside of the ‘productivity frontier’, that is, the sum of all best practices in that industry. It is only by defining the different activities that an organisation performs or how it performs similar activities in different ways, that the frontier can be broken through and true market leadership achieved.
- Strategy as a Perspective: The fifth “P” of Mintzberg’s Five Ps model – perspective – is aimed internally. Its focus lies on the organisational culture and the way organisation views itself. In order to bring results, perspective must be shared by all members of an organisation. So, the important task of senior management is to successfully communicate the organisation’s strategic vision and values to the employees.
In my experience, most organisations want the annual strategic planning day to craft the three to ten-year plan, that once finished is used to monitor and measure day to day outcomes and performance against such “long term” planning. This is not adequate in today’s world. The strategy that Board and governing stakeholders should insist upon is how the senior management are going to lead the organisation through turbulent times whilst maintain and even growing the level of service provision that sets them apart as a leading provider.
In today’s rapidly moving turbulent world strategic leaders need to own two significant characteristics:
- “The ability to manage and operate the organisation ethically and responsibly to maintain profitability and sustainability; and
- The ability to lead people so that they subscribe to the organisation’s vision and mission and work hard to be an intrinsic part of its success.” (Knowles, 2018)
In what has been a black swan event first half of the 2020 year, every leader of every organisation is being tested, as is your organisational recovery strategy. A new financial year looms fast. How will you review and act to strategically lead your organisation ethically and responsibly to achieve your collective mission and vision in the unfinished and turbulent times of change surrounding us?
In summary, Mintzberg’s Five Ps model causes us to think through a variety of lenses that may not have otherwise been considered. Planning strategy from the five different viewpoints outlined by Mintzberg’s Five Ps likely makes it much stronger, more robust and resilient, more enduring in the life of the organisation, yet more open to considered change as internal and external factors encountered in the organisation are experienced over time.
Nice chatting! And if you would like further input, please do not hesitate to get in touch.