Challenges: Front Lines Create Strategy

Harvard professors Joseph Bower and Clark Gilbert examined a number of studies into corporate strategy and made an interesting discovery: 

'"What we have found in one research study after another is that how business really gets done has little connection to the strategy developed at corporate headquarters.

"Rather, strategy is crafted, step by step, as managers at all levels of a company - be it a small firm or a large multinational - commit resources to policies, programs, people, and facilities.

"Crafting strategy is an iterative, real-time process; commitments must be made, then either revised or stepped up as new realities emerge."
Harvard Business Review, February, 2007

That "iterative, real-time process" is what we teach. We deploy these strategic skills where they matter most—on your organization’s front lines.

The author's go on to tell the story of Intel's strategic exit from the memory market. That decision was made by Andy Grove and Gordon Moore after Intel's revenues from memory had fallen to only 4% of total sales. This means Intel's front-line people had already exited the memory market and the key executives just recognized the reality after the fact.

The question the Harvard professor's ask is, "Who's in control?"  They come to the conclusion that though the CEO's can make decisions about  resource allocation inside the organization, it is the people on the front lines who must make the key competitive decision. Those decisions start with what information to pass up the chain of command.

Innovation and Customers

What is most telling is that the professors define "operating managers" to include salespeople, which means that they are really talking about front-line decision makers rather than traditional managers. Working in the front-line, these operating managers can either "constrain innovation" or "redirect and improve strategy in very innovative ways." 

Training your front-line people only to follow a process constrains innovation. Training them how to safely explore the competitive terrain as well as follow procedures ensures a flow of creative new ideas.

The big discover here is that strategy depends on adapting to the environment. It is the decisions outside of the organization, the decisions of customers, that matter the most. While many organizations talk about "staying close to their customers," the reality is that it is the front-line people who are close to the customers, not people who are further up the hierarchy.

The filter keeping out the bad ideas and letting in the new ideas has to be on the surface of the organization. Good strategy doesn't arise from letting every individual customer to dictate organizational priorities, but trained front-line people can identify the larger opportunities that real individual customers represent.

A Larger Perspective

Our training leverages the wisdom, experience, and good judgment your front-line people have

already developed. It simply puts that knowledge into a larger, more powerful context. If your people need more useful perspectives rather than more detailed processes, this is the training they need. If you need to develop expertise on your front lines more quickly to grow, training in strategic decision-making is key.

Our training offers a simple, scalable model for understanding complex, detailed situations. This perspective makes day-to-day decision-making clearer,  easier, and faster. The relevant information is identified more quickly. Potential opportunities and better responses pop out of the background of constant information noise. More importantly, this perspective generates powerful insights  into how progress can be made in difficult situations. It gives your people a leverage point for their creative energy.

To learn what we teach in more detail and why it is invaluable read more about the science of strategy here

Competitive Arenas: