Concept-Driven Strategy

11 09 2011

Having just finished an MBA subject called Strategy, I thought I’d share the approach to strategic planning used in this subject. If you would like more information on the topic, try googling the lecturer, Mike Metcalfe from University of South Australia – or enrol in his subject (also available online).

Concept-driven strategy is underpinned by the philosophy of Pragmatism, which links ideas and actions (ideas, or concepts, are neither inherently right or wrong and are only useful if they are linked to practice). It uses ideas, thoughts and concerns to generate higher-level directions for an organisation, which guide the lower level practical activities.

The Concept-Driven Strategy is particularly good for complex multi-stakeholder situations where there is little clarity about what the issues or concerns are. Using a multi-stakeholder analysis approach, it analyses the many concerns of many stakeholders to identify commonalities and develop nodes of concerns. This can be done using a free download at ucinet. Through using this matrix-approach, a number of nodes of concerns should begin to be visible – critical masses of concern.

The next stage is to analyse the nodes – as the issues have come from a number of stakeholders there may be inherent tensions, paradoxes and unintended consequences within each node of concern.

This analysis is used to develop a Statement of Strategic Intent – which is about what the organisation wants to BE, more than necessarily what it wants to DO. For instance the organisation might want to BE more agile (in order to take advantage of opportunities and changes in the industry sector).

This is then further developed into specific actions to make the Strategic Intent happen – what would that look like? What might be happening if we were like that? How might people be working, what would they do, who would they work with, who would we recruit and what organisational structure, committee structure and resources do we need to be that organisation? These specific activities are then further developed into a plan.

This is then mapped into a diagrammatic form – whatever sort of diagram suits your plan and your way of thinking – program logic, fishbone, timeline etc, and communicated to all stakeholders.

The important factor is the involvement of stakeholders to a greater and lesser degree all the way through the process. Staff and clients / consumers might be heavily involved all the way through – you want to bring them on the journey. Competitors might be less involved. Funding bodies and industry bodies might have some initial input and then some strategic involvement at other stages – or you might want to include them on the entire journey.

The involvement of a large number of stakeholder opinions is intended to overcome the subjectivity of individual opinions, and to overcome the issue of outlier opinions from powerful voices overcoming the needs and wants of other stakeholders.

Concept-Driven Strategy is not the only model for driving strategic change. Nor is it suitable for all situations. But it is another useful and interesting tool in the tool-belt.