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Report: International Conferences in Strategy, Melbourne Australia and London UK

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Observations and Lessons Learned: Strategy as the Enabler of change in an Era of Unbounded Disruption


The purpose of this White Paper is to provide a summary of observations and learnings gleaned from presenters and attendees who participated in our strategy conferences held in:

• Melbourne on the 16th and 17th of October, 2017 and

• London on the 14th and 15th of November 2017.

The title of the conference was Strategy as The Enabler of Change in an Era of Unbounded Disruption. The four streams that provided the structure to the conference are as follows, they are supported by White Papers that can be accessed at

Stream 1 Strategy Process: Reinventing strategic planning.

Refer White paper: “Culture Doesn’t Eat Strategy for Breakfast, Culture is Strategy”

Stream 2 Strategic Thinking: Getting ready for strategic decision making

Refer White paper: “Shelley’s Dilemma: At What Point Do I Stop Planning and Start Strategising?”

Stream 3 Strategic change: Coping mechanisms in an era of unbounded disruption

Refer White paper: “A New Era of Competition Needs New Perspectives of Strategy: Can Tesla Lead the Way?”

Stream 4 Strategic Innovation: Out of the box strategic thinking and tool use

Refer White paper: “If the Balance Sheet provides a “Window to the Company”: What is the Purpose of Strategy?

We made the promise to provide this feedback as part of the value of attendance at the Conference. Our objective in doing so was to lay a foundation for further evolution and development of our knowledge in strategy practice. We invite you once again to contribute your views on topics discussed in this micro White Paper as any comments you may have will contribute to the continued understanding, and realisation of improvements in advanced strategy practices.

To add some additional support to our findings we also include observations, albeit limited in scope, from the Strategic Management Society Conference held in Houston, USA on the 28th to the 31st October 2017. The title of this conference was: Unconventional Strategies for Emerging Complexity and Intensifying Diversity.

Specifically, we invite you now to read the report presented herein, and to then provide us with your views on the commentary through either of our LinkedIn discussion group or our blog:

In writing this summary of conference outcomes I would like to thank all of those who assisted with the preparation, development and conduct of these two conferences and all those who gave presentations. Conference organisers included our Chairman, Honorary Professor Mike Donnelly (Herriot-Watt), our co-chair in Melbourne Professor Stuart Orr (Deakin) and a key contributor to the event in Melbourne, Dennis McCluskey.

In London I pass on special thanks to my co-chairs Associate Professor Amos Haniff (Herriot-Watt) and the Director for Business Engagement, UWE Dr Noordin Shehabuddeen. A full list of speakers to whom I am also indebted are listed at the end of this paper. Please let me also thank Lyn Hunter who played a success defining role in the administration and management of the conference proceedings.

Introduction: Background to the Conference

World economies and by definition, global business is on the cusp of significant change. Just as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, so are strategy practitioners from industry, academia and consulting seeking to develop ways to both adapt to (respond) and invent (create) new capabilities in the practice of strategy specifically and strategic management in general. Individuals with a strong interest in strategy will recognise the value of the synergies that can be obtained from the sharing of knowledge between the three specific agents of strategy practice; that is the industrialists, the consultants and the academics. The practicality of such sharing is however often thwarted as the means to do so is mostly limited in scope; that is why we held the conferences.

Our focus for the topics discussed in the conference was on the ‘enabling’ and ‘doing’ strategy, that is ‘making strategy work in practice’. The streams that provided the structure to the conference were:

» Introduction: The emerging playing fields for Strategy Practitioners

» Stream 1 Strategy Process: Reinventing strategic planning

» Stream 2 Strategic Thinking: Getting ready for strategic decision making

» Stream 3 Strategic change: Coping mechanisms in an era of unbounded disruption

» Stream 4 Strategic Innovation: Out of the box strategic thinking

We follow each of these themes in this report and conclude with a summary of common themes and observations, recommendations for future consideration.

1. Introduction: The Emerging Playing Field for Strategy Practitioners

Assertions upon which the conference program was based were confirmed instantly by two of our Key Note speakers, Grantly Mailes, Partner and Associate Director of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Professor Stuart Orr, Deakin University. Grantly’s presentation focused on the issues of disruption from new, emerging and predominantly digitised technology. He commenced his discussion with a stark warning to corporates, especially the fact that larger organisations are failing faster than they ever have in history. At the same time, he noted, small organisations are surviving longer than ever before. Orr and his colleague, Akshay Jadhav provided insight into the emergence of new and dynamic superpowers, those of India and China. Both offered some stark warnings in what not to do as well as some practical insight into what to do when attempting to do business in these countries. Insight into the future of business and indeed society in general was provided by Nick Price, who as a futurist and Director of ofthingsimmaterial conveyed some dire warnings as to the future of the global economy and indeed the planet – a sobering reminder of why we are here and what might happen should disruption extend beyond the upper limits of our normal levels of consciousness.

Disruptive Influence of Technology

Fundamental to the phenomenon of disruption is the rise of technological capabilities; in particular, that of digitisation. Corporates it seems, have been shown to be less innovative in the digitisation space while in contrast, start-ups are based on the adoption of new technology; digitisation being the predominant choice for entrepreneurs seeking to fracture convention and tradition. Nor it seems, will there be any let-up in this trend. In a way, we can observe that technology has emerged in the same fashion that a frog can meet a devilish demise when placed on the stove and heated to boiling point. Just as the slow speed of boiling doesn’t alert the frog to the changing environment from which it suffers a grizzly death, so too has technology been growing in the background, only now reaching boiling point. Whereas corporations have tended to treat the arrival of this phenomenon with scepticism, entrepreneurs have jumped on the opportunity and in doing so, have been laughing all the way to the bank (or in Cashaa’s case, all the way to their Blockchain Wallet).

Grantly also pointed to the emerging trend that points towards a reversal of globalisation, particularly in the USA. He also emphasised the rise of new super powers such as India and China as other factors of disruption in business today.

Responsive and Prosponsive Change

Paul Hunter, Founder of the Strategic Management Institute (SMI) and the consulting firm, Paul Hunter Strategy and Leadership provided insight into ways in which to manage strategic change, especially now as new opportunity emerges and old forms of management and strategic thinking decline. In his presentation, Hunter referred to the idea of strategy practice in this era of disruption as needing to adopt a capacity for corporates to be both adaptive to change, and also inventive in the uptake of opportunity. To adapt, an organisation needs to possess a capability to respond to change in the internal or external environment; or in any environment where change is occurring, and in ways that are beyond their control. A failure to change will result in a loss of relevance. This outcome carries with it the inevitable loss of control, either through; takeover by other corporates; a gradual decline, as they are surpassed by aggressive entrepreneurs; or outright failure.

Hunter stressed that the idea of strategy is as much about creating new opportunity (inventing) as it is about responding to threats. In the absence of an alternative to the word ‘response’ Hunter proposed a new word (in itself an adaptation) – that of prosponse. To be prosponsive is to be alert to opportunity and to be inventive, that is to position an organisation to take advantage of new opportunity as it arises. Mailes’ observation supports the notion of re and prosponsive change. As he suggested, many corporates are more like the boiling frog that fails to respond to changes in the environment when in fact, they need to be much more like the entrepreneurs who seize opportunity when it arrives.

Causes and implications of disruption from technology

Factors of significance that will be the cause of disruption for at least the next thirty years include the speed of change, personalisation (every individual will have their own technological device – of choice), autonomous machines (driverless cars), Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the Internet of Things (connectivity), Quantum Computing and the arrival of the Sharing Economy. Fundamental to this technology will be access to, and the smart use of data, the acceptance of ‘openness’ and sharing, a capacity to filter data into relevant formats, and cognification.

For the strategy practitioner, cognification is perhaps one of the most significant of all technological advances. Cognification in this context refers to ‘the act of making things smarter’ (e.g. from landlines to smart phones). An added value is a combination of smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence connected to machines - the ‘things’ that make up the Internet of Things. Linking smart communication devices with machines will present a whole new world of opportunity and value generation. An example is the linking of smart phones with digital electricity metering to enable remote monitoring of aged care – (refer

Other factors to consider according to Mailes are the development of new algorithms feeding analytics and indeed, algorithms that evolve from capabilities associated with machine learning. An ability to identify the right data will also be critical and this is being aided by new advances in data cleansing and data filtering. Finally, it is recognised that all these technologies will grow at an exponential rate, meaning that they will become increasingly pervasive in our lives, and will evolve more rapidly over time. As technology improves so does our capacity to invent and deliver improvements. Whereas it took 100 years to launch a mobile version of the telephone for example, it took only ten years to transform telephonic technology from a basic, analogue mobile phone into a digital ‘smart’ watch.

Disruptive Influence of the Transformation of Power: The decline of the USA and rise of China and India

Even in campaign mode, USA President Donald Trump promised to reset the global economic balance through a refocusing of interest; from global domination to US centric strengthening, the latter described briefly through his dogma of “America First”. In his first year in office Trump moved quickly to enact his electioneering commitments. From an economic perspective we have witnessed the USA’s withdrawal from the Chinese, Asian, South Pacific and Australasian trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He has also treated the local North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with disdain and has made several moves to get the agreement reworked altogether. We also saw the USA’s withdrawal of support from non-trade global activities such as the ‘Paris Agreement’ on climate change along with the threat of the USA’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance that was formed between several North American and European states and was based on the North Atlantic Treaty.

Given the extent of social and other media coverage of President Trumps change campaign, the visible withdrawal of the USA from world affairs firmly set in the audience’s mind. Against this backdrop it was comforting to hear from Professor Stuart Orr, and his colleague from Deakin University, Akshay Jadhav, that the two emerging global superpowers China and India offer a strong promise of opportunity.

The beneficiaries of this transformation are the middle classes in China and India who have already experienced a major increase in their levels of individual wealth. This turnaround is creating a new world of opportunity for global traders and potential suppliers. There are however some pitfalls, the details of which were outlined by Orr and Jadhav. Their presentation addressed the good and the bad of growth opportunities available from the two economies. Causes of disruption in each of these countries were discussed under the headings of: 1) Innovation, 2) Human Resource Management Practices, 3) Barriers and Liabilities, and 4) Resources and Organisational Capabilities.

We explore Professor Orr and Jadhav’s insights into the practicality of doing business in China and India later in this paper (Stream 3 Strategic change: Coping mechanisms in an era of unbounded disruption). Should you be interested in a thorough overview of this topic, we refer you to Professor Orr’s et all’s forthcoming book: Innovation and Internationalisation: Successful SMEs’ Ventures into China, Orr, S., Menzies, J., Zheng, C. and Maddumage, S. (2018) Routledge.

The question that must be asked following the foregoing observation is: “To what extent will Trump’s reversal in policy result in a transformation in international business: is this the start of a trend, from further Globalisation towards a greater emphasis of Localisation?” To address this issue, the Strategic Management Society will be holding its 2018 annual conference on the topic of: Strategies in the Era of De-Globalization. In the conference to be held in Paris on the 23rd to 25th September, the organisers observe: “We have entered a new era, where the beliefs which we held true seem to hold no longer. Globalization doesn’t appear to provide all the answers to the economic growth and development of countries. Populism is gaining traction. The value of trade alliances, such as NAFTA, is being questioned. Political institutions, like the European Union, are being challenged and the UK is exiting the European project”.

Observations Stream 1: Strategy Process: Reinventing Strategic Planning

Setting the scene

The setting for this stream of discussion can be best described through the commentary provided by Professor Henry Mintzberg who presented at the Strategic Management Society (SMS) 2017 Conference, Houston, Texas. Here, Mintzberg proclaimed: “for me, strategy is an obsession”. That comment was of course based on his lifelong mission to get people to understand that strategy should be treated as something that continually evolves over time, and that the antithesis of this view is the notion that strategy could ever be a static strategic plan. Although he has addressed, on many occasions, his perceived limitations of Michael Porter’s ‘positioning’ perspective of strategy, he lamented that no response to his views were ever offered by Michael Porter. We pay tribute to both and encourage the ongoing debate as to the meaning, value and purpose of strategy.

Emergent vs. Deliberate Strategy

Where does that lead us? In his discussion, Professor Richard Whittington from SAID Business School, Oxford University proved the value of having both academics and business/government specialists together to discuss the topic of strategy. He made the point that rather than growing “the discipline of strategy has been declining – even though the rate of change in the business environment has been transforming rapidly”. This observation would not sit well with most strategy consultants and in business/government who are inundated with the demands of dramatic change. To support his view, Whittington noted that very little new concepts in strategy had evolved in the recent past and in fact, innovations in strategy had probably reached their peak in the mid 1990’s. This was an interesting observation for those in the audience who are engaged in strategic conversations daily, however no one disputed his opinion.

Whittington provided a quick history of strategy to prove his point. A few examples of new ideas in strategy were identified, they included Blue Ocean Strategy and Transient Competitive Strategy. We will see later that Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Loh also provide an alternative view of strategy from their construct that they refer to as Patterns of Strategy, however it was agreed that no spectacular insights into strategy practice had been discovered overall. In most instances, anything that is new according to Whittington, is generally limited to the laying of perceptions of the new over the old. When comparing the nature of supposed advanced strategy practices, Whittington did stress that most of modern adaptations of strategy oriented more towards dynamic as opposed to static strategy practice. That would have made Mintzberg happy.

The Evolution of ‘Open Strategy’

What would also have made Mintzberg happy is the emergence of a concept of ‘group’ strategy practices, a phenomenon that Whittington describes as that of ‘Open Strategy’. Promoting a view of strategy as a program of continual transition, Whittington points to the ‘democratisation’ of strategy whereby ‘open’ strategy practice is becoming the norm. Subsequent presentations, as you will observe provided great weight to this view as open strategy practices and indeed, technology each pointed to open strategy practice as a key enabler of successful management and implementation.

Typically, strategy has been the sole domain of corporate leadership and specialist strategy practitioners. Increasingly, this is no longer the case Whittington observed. Technology has been a key enabler in this transformation. In the past, communications between bureaucratically structured Divisions and Strategic Business Units were limited to telex and fax machines, physical ‘Town Hall’ meetings and phone calls. Today, open innovation and strategising techniques abound as do automated methods of communication which make the strategising process far broader, faster and more effective.

In this brave new world, the setting of strategic objectives can now be nimbler as learning from open strategy practice can be absorbed faster and acted upon far more rapidly than in the past. Investors have responded also. A demand for profitability and high market share is giving way to a promise of credible strategy – witness those willing to invest huge sums in Tesla, Amazon and Uber all with questionable financial performance in the past.

Implications of ‘Open Strategy’

To progress the idea of Open Strategy, Whittington points to three forces of change. First is technology, and these were described previously in our overview of Grantley Mailes presentation. Second is organisation and here the question of how organisations will be structured in the future comes into play. This subject was also the topic of a presentation given by Paul Hunter at the 2017 SMS Conference, Houston, Texas. Here Hunter observed that emerging trends point to new constructs and formats – that as a result, carry new consequences for strategy. These trends provided the basis for some of the changes that could well occur as:

· Privately held, super-corporations become the norm: In the future corporation, it is possible that managers, not stock exchanges will be responsible for the management of a portfolio of businesses. The role of these managers will be to oversee these portfolio’s rather than the more traditional portfolios of Product Ranges or Strategic Business Units.

· Corporate strategy is given a new focus: whereby there will be an emphasis on portfolios that represents a cluster of businesses within an eco-system, rather than an agglomeration of independent business units which will in return demand that:

o strategy practice will be focused on the monitoring of portfolio oriented, firm specific attractiveness over industry attractiveness, and

o portfolio managers will be required to meet measures of portfolio performance over corporate level, enterprise wide - shareholder value performance.

· Knowledge based cognitive strategy replaces planning: Under a new evaluation regime, cognitive capabilities and artificial intelligence will take priority over lowest cost, highest quality or market ‘niches’ as primary sources of competitive advantage.

The third force identified by Whittington as a key driver of change was culture. A degree of openness will require a relaxing of corporate culture and these topics were discussed in length in separate presentations in the Melbourne Conference (John Toohey and Zivit Inbar), Fiona Irvine in London.

Having identified the forces of change in some detail, Whittington left the audience with the challenge: “Who will be the agents of Open Strategy practice?” As key orchestrator of the Conference, smiknowledge sees itself as a key player in this field and by definition, a principle agent in the transformation. The method for new strategy practice was described by the Managing Director of the SMI/smiknowledge in his presentation, discussed next. The realisation of the approach developed by Hunter provided the basis for the success stories described on Day 2 of the conference in both Melbourne (presentation given by Anthony Claridge) and London (presentation from Paul Foley).

Strategic Management Institute Treating Open Strategy as a System

Grounded in a philosophy of re and prosponsive thinking (refer above) Paul Hunter sought to address business’s continued reliance on the sole use of static strategic plans to propose that advanced strategy practitioners should consider, at the least, as a system within the context of three dynamic elements of advanced strategy practice:

· Treat strategy as a system: smiknowledge has developed a fully integrated strategic management framework within which, strategy as a system can be formatted, structured and implemented – on the basis of a program of continual renewal as opposed to a process of static planning. Paul stressed however that it is not only strategy that should be treated as a system, but rather, the entire business should also seek to emerging itself in a customer focused, systems-based service solution.

· Evaluate strategy within a context of ‘reframing’: that is to “look at the world and its component parts and systems differently - sometimes very differently - as if from outer space”. No longer is SWOT a sufficient tool for informing strategic decision making. Reframing is necessary to allow an organisation to breathe new life into its psyche, new models for its business and new service solutions for its customers.

· The conduct of strategy at the level of a profession: whereby:

o standards are documented and elevated to a higher order of practice,

o a common language is understood and widely recognised, and

o strategic thinking is elevated from a conception of a ‘hoped for’ vision of the future to that of a systemic, cognitive appreciation of any eventuality that will either boost, or deplete the health of any organisation or business.

Systemic Cognitive Strategy Practice (SCSP)

SCSP represents one of the most significant departures from the notion of strategic planning. SCSP elevates the notion of strategy from conceptualisation of future outcomes, and attempts to pre-empt them, to that of a continual consciousness of an organisations wellbeing. SCSP is based on the actions taken by its leaders from the past, in the present and into the future. Just as Open Strategy carries with the promise of openness, transparency and accountability for all, SCSP can only be enacted by those who have the wherewithal to create, invigorate, invent and enact strategic change. Holders of SCSP cards can be found in formal or informal positions in the business. They will be those who identify as being ‘attuned’ to the nervous system of any organisation.

SCSP practitioners will be informed by explicit and implicit knowledge that is found within any organisation. In the future their power will be strongly influenced – and enhanced from the introduction of new knowledge-based technologies such as cloud-based analytics, artificial intelligence predictive/ big data analytics.

In his concluding remarks Hunter presented perceptions of a new world order where SCSP will be key to success. In particular, Hunter proposed:

· The emergence of new organisation structures where:

o Corporations will be tech heavy, agile, global and spatial (interested or involved in outer space venturing),

o Head offices will be reduced to the CEO, close (strategic) advisers and analytics/Artificial Intelligence specialists.

o They will be managing a Portfolio of Businesses, not Portfolios of Brands or Business Units

· New systems, processes and culture:

o Culture will reside with each business, there will be no ‘corporate culture’

o Legal, tax and compliance requirements will be fully automated – and different

o No business will be too small, all may be sold off at any time.

Observations Stream 2 Strategic Thinking: Getting ready for strategic decision making

In setting the scene for the topic of strategic change we refer to Nick Price who provided the audience with insight into issues associated with challenges that we are likely to face in the future. Nick of course alluded to the phenomenon of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) and on this topic, John Toohey provided some very timely advice as he provided insight into the ways to deal with this phenomenon, and the thought processes that provide us with a capacity to think more strategically. Fundamental to a human’s capacity to engage in strategic thought is the context within which strategic thinking is enacted. Here Zivit Inbar and Fiona Irvine provided insight into the imperative of corporate culture as an essential ingredient in the strategic decision-making process; and in our capacity to deal with everything that is a part of VUCA.

The future of the future: Setting the scene for change

Nick Price is a futurist and as Director of ofthingsimmaterial. Price stressed that it was his observation that change is inevitable, but when it comes to overcoming the enormity of change, corporations are always reluctant to do so. If corporations are to change he suggests, they need a trigger. Ford and General Motors he noted, continually ignored the need for change as they both retained stood steadfast to their use of fossil fuels as source of energy. It wasn’t until Tesla arrived in the market place that they showed any interest in switching to electricity as a viable alternative. The challenge organisations must face Price noted was: “How do we respond to change and how do we deal with the change in the work place?” This is not an easy question to answer and was one faced by recently by the UK’s Southern Rail whose drivers embarked on an extensive industrial campaign in an attempt to protect conductors from losing their jobs. Even when the company promised no jobs would be lost, the drivers persisted in taking part in rolling strike action. Ironically, the reality of this situation is that it is not the conductors but the drivers whose jobs are threatened as autonomous trains could become the norm very quickly.

In focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a specific disrupter, Price observed that “The onset of AI will demand new conversations about the introduction of complete model changes”. Price defined AI as “a program based on a computer that adapts and changes itself in response to new information”. Its value he observed, was not yet clear, but it’s presence is real and to some, including the high-profile Professor Stephen Hawking, is dangerous. To move forward with AI therefore, Price proposed that we need to learn from the past, recognising that change should be introduced slowly, and in small chunks. Transformation he noted, must commence with an adoption phase which is then followed with the commence of the broad-based access to AI mechanisms. This phase has already started in society, it can be seen in ‘intelligent’ search engines and the use of voice activated search agents such as Amazon Echo, Apple Siri and Google Home. From this phase, trust will build, and this will be followed with the introduction of more comprehensive regulation. The process concludes with voluminous adoption at which point a luxury soon becomes a commodity.

Strategic Thinking: Improving strategy effectiveness through better decision making

John Toohey impressed upon us the fact that strategic thinking, like any form of thinking or decision making for that matter suffers from varying degrees of bias. This is in turn is fuelled by a lack of useful and relevant information. The consequences are swift and obvious:

· Strategic decisions don’t deliver intended results,

· The smartest people can be witnessed making the dumbest decisions, and

· The same mistakes are constantly being repeated.

The question is therefore; “How can we get access to better information?” To explain, Toohey proposed that we need to better understand how the brain works when we are engaging in strategic decision making. If we understand this process, we can then understand what outcome to expect.

Traditionally, the research required to address this conundrum has been held within the exclusive domain of neuro scientists. Increasingly however, managers and neuroscientists are combining forces to meet the challenge head on. Toohey provided insight into findings to date by identifying the 5 ‘B’s’ of strategic decision making. They are:

5 ‘B’s’ of strategic decision making

· Brains: these are not hard wired and change connections and shape all the time,

· Beliefs: many are predetermined for whatever reason, the existence of certain beliefs and values however has consequences,

· Behaviours: these are influenced by simple factors and they are not always appropriate,

· Biases: are omnipresent and inevitable, it is important for every individual to recognise the biases that hey carry around with them, and

· Bosses: Each are moved by insight, creativity, empathy, honesty and humanity.

In support of the notion of Cognitive Strategy Practice referred to previously, Toohey confirms that the trick to effective decision making is to reframe, to think differently and to avoid the trap of ‘auto pilot’ or ‘group think’. Instead, he suggests, we should engage in frontal cortex dominated ‘deep’ thinking that extends beyond the boundaries and constraints of ‘business as usual’.

Toohey concluded with the observation that there is no need to overcomplicate it, sometimes it is OK to simply look beyond the mainstream and identify the solutions that once identified, can be blindingly obvious.

Culture and strategy: Setting the organisation up for success or failure

In relating culture to strategy, Zivit Inbar observed at the Melbourne conference that an organisations culture is the most powerful force that sets an organisation up for success - or failure. A definition of culture was provided by Inbar, it is “the way we do things around here”. Culture is made up of shared beliefs and customs as well as shared norms and values. Most importantly, Inbar observed “organisational culture is here to protect organisations from change. It is dynamic and should change as the organisation changes”.

In London, Fiona Irvine provided complementary evidence to Inbar’s views on the importance of culture. In introducing the topic Irvine challenged the audience with the question “What comes first, strategy or culture?”. In answering it, she drew on her experiences with three different CEO’s from three different organisations. As a starting point, Irvine came up with an observation that CEO’s have different culture ‘types’, they are disruptive, common sense, reward, target focused and colliding. The challenge she issued to the audience was to identify “how do we get to the best alignment between each”?

Continuing her emphasis and focus on the role that the CEO plays in the alignment of strategy with culture, Irvine observed that:

· The CEO’s personality will shape the culture of the organisation, it sets its beliefs and behaviours.

· Often, CEO’s; lack self-awareness and don’t appreciate the impact that they have on the business.

· A single, controlling mind can shape the culture and strategy of the business, while delivering all sorts of results.

Irvine presented examples of strategy and culture alignment drawn from the CEO cases that she labelled the good, the bad and the ugly:

CEO Case Study: The Good

Irvine described this CEO as a caring type. His primary business was selling life insurance policies over the phone. To get results he provided incentives and sought to engage with them to provide support and guidance when needed. He gave them Christmas bonuses and highly valued those who worked for him.

CEO Case Study: The Bad

Irvine described this CEO as a street fighter who loved the high life and visibly demonstrated his love for wealth and romance. He came from the wrong side of town but had a heart of gold. Having started with a good idea he built a retail electronics retail chain that employed people whose average age was 24. He employed quite aggressive methods to get customers into his store, but staff remained very loyal as he rewarded them with high salaries. He operated without a strategy, relying instead on a ‘seat of his pants’ management style and ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ instead of contracts. Ultimately the business failed due primarily to the CEO’s arrogance.

The moral of the story according to Irvine: “You can have a really good company without a strategy and you can have a really bad culture, but still keep your people”.

CEO Case Study: The Ugly

The CEO in this case was a young, ambitious entrepreneur who set up business in the finance industry. Initially successful, things began to change as the culture changed in 2005 when a global expansion plan was put into place. By 2007, success had gone to the CEO’s head and culture was all about him. An ego-based strategy led him to aim for ‘global domination’ which would be achieved through his leadership style of micro management, bullying and a strong fear culture – all of which could quite quickly reduce people to tears. The final outcome was the collapse of the business.

The Big Question

Based on the foregoing cases Irvine sought to answer the big question: “How can businesses protect themselves from the negative impact of the shadow of the leader on culture and strategy?”

Moral of the story: “You can have all the right strategy in the world, but: if you don’t have the right culture your dead”. Now would be a good time perhaps to refer you to our own interpretation of the relationship between culture and strategy. I would in fact refer you to our White Paper section of our web site where you are able to download a micro paper that we have titled: Culture Doesn’t Eat Strategy for Breakfast, Culture IS Strategy the link is as follows:

Drivers of culture

Irvine recalled three principles that reflected good culture. These were:

· Treat employees well

· Use employees with good ideas to set strategic direction

· Use employees in all areas of the business to suggest ideas

Similarly, she observed a summary of principles regarding ‘common-sense’ culture