One of the most important elements that defines a successful business is the quality of its corporate strategy. Get the strategy wrong and the business can fail very quickly but get it right and a business can flourish and become profitable very quickly.
So when we think about quality in the corporate environment we need to be thinking in ‘top-down’ mode. In other words getting the high level strategy right first as everything else falls naturally out of the strategy. But what do we mean exactly by ‘strategy’?
Strategic management is all about making decisions regarding the future direction of an organisation and then putting them into action. There are two main aspects – ‘Strategic Planning’ and ‘Strategic Implementation’.
Strategic planning is absolutely vital for both a sole trader and a multinational company. A simple way of looking at it in the planning stage is by posing three basic questions:
• Where are we now?
• Where are we going?
• How are we going to get there?
Strategic implementation, by way of contrast, involves developing the appropriate organisational structure and processes that can realise the strategy and then monitoring the progress and effectiveness of the defined action plans.
Asking the initial question “Where are we now?” is often called ‘situation appraisal’ and is a snap-shot of the organisation from two aspects, external and internal.
The external view comprises an appraisal of the environment that the organisation is either operating within at present or aims to be operating within in the future. There are several models and tools that can be employed to aid this process such as ‘Force-field analysis’, ‘PEST Analysis’ or ‘Competitive Benchmarking’ etc. As well as the general environment, it is also useful to perform a competitor analysis, possibly for each and every key competitor. Although covering broadly similar issues such as values, objectives and strategies, this should also include assumptions and predictions (bearing in mind that a perception of another organisation and its associated data will probably be incomplete, inaccurate and possibly erroneous)
Another well-known and useful tool is ‘Stakeholder Analysis’ which serves to identify and prioritise who might have an interest in the organisation, what that interest might be, and how much influence they can exert. This can be approached by:-
• Identifying key environmental forces
• Assessing environmental influences
• Identifying competitive position
• Defining key opportunities and threats
The ‘Internal’ view represents a health-check of the current and expected capabilities of the organisation, whether using a well-established reference tool such as the EFQM excellence model or a more informal approach. The aim is to identify what the organisation does well or not so well, what resources and competencies are available, how well the processes are working and if internal targets are being achieved. This is because only when the organisation has profound knowledge of its current abilities will it be able to gauge what it might be capable of in the future.
Some ISO9001:2008 certificated organisations use their internal audit resource for this critical step, as opposed to simply getting their internal auditors to perform low-level repetitive tick-box audits. Topics that are typically reviewed include: objectives, strategy, leadership, structure, systems, financials, processes, resources, capabilities, culture and constraints. The output of this is a perception of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats or the well-known “SWOT model”.
It’s true that many organisations do very well without grand strategic plans and seem to prosper by being in the right place at the right time – and maybe having a fair share of luck too! Indeed, one school of thought claims that strategic plans only serve to constrict the free development of an organisation and actually hold it back. The argument is that when things are going well grand plans are unnecessary and it is only when things are not going well that plans are needed. Whilst this might be true for a small number of organisations, the risk of getting it wrong is so great that a more conservative approach might be prudent for the majority. Short-term success without grand plans is common in all walks of life and the trick is to sustain it over the medium to long term.
So in the context of strategic plans and implementation thereof a quality based approach is really at the heart of the process – and it should remain at the heart from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom permeating every level of the business.