In her book, The New How, Building Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy, published by O’Reilly, Nilofer Merchant addresses a difficult topic: the common discrepancy between what is called “strategy” in the one hand, and what is labeled “execution,” on the other. In between, you have what she calls the “air sandwich.” The gap is not new whatsoever. Most companies reproduce a multi-millenarian dichotomy between the people who think in the stratosphere and the rest of the humans, bound to deal with the day-to-day weather in the troposphere. Too bad, because that’s what is killing them from the inside! This book offers an extensive description of a devastating disease – but even better, a solid methodology to stop it.
Most strategies are doomed to fail from the start because of how they were formed. They are positioned as visions disconnected from implementation considerations – and therefore foster adhoc measures and improvisation. By erring on the side of the “vision,” modern “strategists” have moved away from what military leaders of the past (no way to avoid the etymology of “strategy”) never failed to take into account: building a strategy is all about coordinating soldiers/teams that are fully committed and responsible, interrelating actions and operations as well as anticipating potential problems and making adjustments – and “All this needs to happen before execution,” Nilofer emphasizes. That’s what strategy creation means, regardless of the domain. While Nilofer keeps away from any military analogy (always hastily associated with an antiquated “command and control” organizational schema), she still offers a revealing definition of the word strategy: ” simply put,” she writes, “a strategy is a way to win.”
The book shows how to rebuild and realign the connective pieces and synergies that drive successful businesses, i.e.:
- How people can engage with one another and create value together.
- How collaborative planning must rely on an efficient framework.
- How small acts rather than big announcements transform company cultures for the best.
“Incorporating collaboration into the company’s dynamic” is not a pompous motto that comes from the top and fades away as you get lower into the hierarchy, but each employee’s personal responsibility: “Think about your work not in terms of what you do, but in terms of the role you play. Your role is not just your title, but includes sets of behaviors, tools, and approaches to create value for and with your organization.” By becoming aware of their roles, people are able to create strategies collaboratively and move faster towards creating meaningful business solutions and improving business performance. The book provides a detailed methodology for collaborative efficiency, the Collaborative strategy process framework, with a thorough description of each of the phases and practical recommendations within each phase. Beware the politically correct kumbayas, and learn about Nilofer’s colorful phrases such as “MurderBoarding,” i.e. “the art of killing off even worthy ideas,” for It’s not just the weak ideas that get killed; good options or ideas at the wrong time also need to go.”
Each page has a show and tell feel that will prod you to want to enact the “new how” and evolve. You may be inclined to brag about your innumerable “personal accomplishments.” But are you really a leader, able to “facilitate as much as you decide, catalyze as much as you act, and coach as much as you direct?” Maybe not… This book explains how you can transform yourself into a collaborative leader capable of making things happen within your organization. Leadership within a company entails employeeship – the “Medarbetarskap” of the Swedes. “Building Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy” relies upon the ability of individuals to rethink their personal development: this book gives the practical recommendations that enable employees to reinvent themselves and find purpose at work.
A must read. A very serious book with a lot of humor. Abundant and excellent illustrations by business cartoonist Hugh MacLeod! Here is one of my favorites:
Additional information about Nilofer Merchant, CEO of Rubicon Consulting: http://rubiconconsulting.com/about-us/bios/nilofer-merchant.html