Under-Utilizing Senior Staff

Case Stories are coded for quick reading

Blue: What Wasn’t Working
Black: Systemic Method
Red: Outcome

A logistic company with operations in 30 countries was for many years guided by a 3-year ‘rolling’ strategy plan. Executive and Senior managers would meet for a one-week ‘off-site’ session every October to present, debate and select strategies to be included in the plan’s revision each January. During the most recent 3-year period the business had suffered a 17% loss of market share and a 7% reduction in overall earnings in spite of significant industry-wide growth.

The company commissioned a systemic study of their strategy planning process with particular emphasis on the business’s capacity to address its current market challenges. The study showed that the Strategy Plan was more like an Operational Plan than one that expressed the intention of the company with respect to market changes and future uncertainties. 71 strategic initiatives were listed in the most recent plan. When re-examined, these indicated the following:

  • 18 activities that were of a routine nature and rightly the responsibility of Line-Supervisors;
  • 52 activities that were directed as complicated technical problems and the responsibility of the various technical experts employed by the company; and only
  • 1 strategy related to a complex issue (the cause-effect relationship between variables could not be determined), that would require the senior staff to choose between a range of options.

Participants in the strategy planning week were bringing forward issues they were comfortable managing and part of their bonus opportunity, not ones that were challenging the business. A subsequent workshop of the Executive team identified 25 complex issues, none of which had made the strategy plan but were at the heart of the company’s effectiveness and viability problems. With applied workshops in systemic methods and complexity management, the reassignment of talent and focus led to a reversal in their market share results.