Strategy is created while we work

Creating strategy is not just some high-flying seminar exercise. Strategy is also created when employees solve challenging tasks on the job, according to a BI study.

Imagine the following scenario: We are on the verge of a very serious accident due to a gas leak. If the catastrophe occurs, it could wipe out half of the country.

A company is assigned the job of resolving the crisis. Engineers are flown in from many different countries to prevent the accident. Fortunately, their efforts are successful. They not only save the country, they solve the challenge in a way the world has never seen before.
This is a great boost to the reputation of the expertise organisation that got the assignment. It is positive for both demand for and sale of new assignments and services. At the same time, the team of engineers has achieved an innovation that can be used to develop new products and services. The project points the way to a new, broader commitment.

"The solution creates future strategies that contribute to a good reputation and long-term value creation," says senior researcher Katja M. Hydle.

Her doctoral project at BI Norwegian Business School examined professional service enterprises that work across international borders.

Not just a seminar exercise
Simply put, strategy is all about making a plan for what an organisation and its staff have to do to achieve a specific objective. Some may roll their eyes at the mere mention of the word strategy, picturing some sort of soaring, overly ambitious seminar exercise that results in a document which ultimately ends up in someone's drawer somewhere. Fortunately, things aren't always that bad.

Some organisations do succeed in transferring strategy into practical tools, ICT and structure. This makes it easier to see how the various work tasks can be resolved.

Hydle has followed a professional service firm represented in more than 100 countries, over a period of five years. The enterprise provides engineering services, and around 90 different nationalities are represented on its staff.

The study shows that strategy is not something that is created in a specific sequence where you first develop the strategy, implement the strategy and then change it. Strategy can also be implemented, changed and created – all at the same time.

Three ways to put strategy into practice
Hydle lists three different ways to put strategy into practice in the same expertise organisation:

  1. Implementing existing strategy – structural time frame: Providing services takes place between two or more professional employees, through one-on-one contract. The formal collaboration takes place via sharing work, and interaction takes place via ICT. The existing strategy that has been implemented is realised when professional users use tools, ICT and structures as a way to share work, and they contribute short-term value creation. This is an appropriate practice when employees are in different locations and have to solve the task at different times.
  2. Project manager shapes strategy in the here and now – controlled time frame: Service provision is controlled by a project manager who coordinates all formal and informal activities carried out by professionals in different places and at different times. The project managers shape strategy in real time through task assignment, customer relationship management and project tracking. He or she contributes to both short-term and long-term value creation. This practice is also suitable when the employees are sometimes together in the same place, and sometimes not.
  3. Create future strategy – social time frame?: Multiple professional employees meet at the same time and in the same place to solve challenging tasks that demand various professions and disciplines, and informal organisation. The problem-solving is innovative, the solutions create new industry standards and future strategy. It contributes to a good reputation and long-term value creation for the company. This practice is suitable when employees meet physically to solve the problem together.

Creating value for the future
The traditional view of strategy, in which the adopted strategy must be implemented in the organisation, only contributes to short-term value creation. The kind of strategy that is shaped while expert employees work together to solve demanding tasks, can contribute to creating value for the longer term, according to Hydle.

She emphasises that there is no single right answer when it comes to the best strategy practices. It all depends on where and when the tasks are to be solved, and where the employee will be solving the tasks.

"Strategy must be understood as a continuous activity, and not just a clearly defined process," she says, thereby challenging the traditional notion of what strategy is all about.

Katja Maria Hydle: Temporal and Spatial Dimensions of Strategizing. Organization Studies. 2015, Vol. 36(5) 643– 663.

Katja M. Hydle:  Cross Border Practices. Transnational Practices in Professional Service Firms. doktorgradsavhandling, Handelshøyskolen BI, 2015.

Published 23. October 2015

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