This is fine, but really, I used the same Five Forces when I took my strategy course over ten years ago, and I'm quite certain that generations of MBAs have been applying Porters five forces to examine organizational strategy ad nauseum. Faculty members who regularly teach the subject must be withering on the rack for the torture of sitting through yet another round of students blathering on about Porters Five Forces like an hours long drip of water on the forehead. More over, Porters Five Forces, in my view has become cliche. Might there be another way forward?
Frankly, I have never had confidence that my writing/thinking would be accepted to whatever journal or publication (given that editorial boards are stringent gate keepers who are not inclined to move that far away from well accepted dogma, which may lead to another hack I've been mulling over, but I leave that to another post) given that it's more a philosophical work than a literature review or empirical based research report. In any case, I thought folks on this forum might be interested in having a look. Minimally, I would love to see what you think about this particular strategy development approach, as I think it may serve organizations better than another bland, vanilla application of Porter's Five Force.
I've copied the text of the url link above and pasted it in here for those who are click-averse. I will post the original document I wrote in Y2K so you can see the origins of the following refined version:
Expeditionary Strategy Development
The postsecondary knowledge industry relies on a heterogeneous set of organizational change strategies. Given constant turbulence amidst a rapidly shifting market place, a more cohesive model for strategy is needed to increase institutional effectiveness.
The following paragraphs outline the fundamental principles or dimensions of Expeditionary Strategy Development (ESD). To grasp the basic ESD concepts it may be helpful for the reader to use the metaphor of conducting an expedition through the foothills of the Himalayas or to the top of Everest or a trek through the backcountry of the Sierras along John Muir Trail. Many concepts of ESD have direct corollaries in the planning for and conduction of such expeditions. After all, competing for and positioning the EMBA for the future should be just that – an adventure. The development of a vibrant and viable strategy should be embraced as a challenge rather than a scramble for survival.
Know your Condition and Stay Fit
Expeditionary Strategy Development begins with a clear sense of the organization’s history (which includes the present as the present is simply history in close proximity to now) and a strong conception of the long-and short-range goals or targets for the future. Understanding institutional history should involve identification of strengths and limitations as well as the talents that each individual within the institution brings to the table during the planning and execution process. Traditional strategy development might result in a long laundry list of identified strengths and limitations. Taking it a step further, ESD dictates that value be placed on both strengths and limitations with the intent to shuffle talent, eliminate unnecessary baggage, or acquire necessary talent for the trek to the future. Just as a college may need to shed underutilized or inefficient programs, an expedition to the Australian Outback would not need six vehicles for two people. While the resource may be nice to own, maintaining and using them can be quite costly and highly unnecessary.
The ability to acquire and develop the appropriate set of organizational systems stems directly from knowing and continually assessing the condition of the organization. Evaluating institutional fitness includes having a firm grasp of and understanding the following key ingredients (to name a few): 1) an institutionalized and working mission and vision statement, 2) viable policies and procedures that act as enablers rather than roadblocks, 3) knowing who works where and does what, 4) your changing student population, 5) a sustainable budget, and 6) an effective mechanism to provide ongoing evaluation or assessment of all parts of the institution. An assessment of organizational fitness must be honest and recurring with an aim to get fit if not, and staying fit.
Embracing the Goals While Preparing for Change
Assessing and fostering institutional fitness without a strong handle on the overall goal of the expedition makes it difficult to understand which strengths and talents may be needed in both the near- and long-term. Tools and equipment to take a team down the Amazon are quite different than trekking through Sahara Desert. Likewise, the aims of a small liberal arts college are going to differ from the local community college. In today’s market, institutional leaders should focus on generating organizational innovation that is in synchronicity with the goals of the organization. During ESD, considerable time must be spent playing the “what if” game with the specific aim of generating viable goals. That is, in an effort to pinpoint the best possible set of institutional goals and appropriate routes to achieve these goals, an institution must spend a chunk of time dreaming and answering the question: “what if we were to…” and fill in the blank.
Even so, no matter how clearly one can articulate or paint a picture of the goal, the future is not entirely predictable. ESD accounts for this unpredictability by building flexibility and change into the natural course of action. After spending time visioning and exploring the most probable and feasible scenarios for generating a future, contingencies must be developed. Coupled with a mechanism for continued environmental scanning and feedback, any viable strategy must move and evolve with the needs of the expedition. However, it is not possible or plausible (not to mention too costly) to conceive of all the pitfalls of an expedition. This is particularly the case given that the future has not been invented yet and no one can make the trek ahead. An expedition team moving forward simply cannot know what it does not know. An entire expeditionary team may get to a point in the trek where they find themselves in a blind ally or on a rock face with no holds visible. Moreover, in the effort to carry out the plan, an entire segment of the team, or the whole organization for that matter, may become lost or in a situation sans the requisite skills to forge ahead. Still, attention to only the larger liabilities in the strategy can become myopic.
Maintaining sharply crystallized goals that are then in turn flexible enough to bend, but not break, should the expedition require is an organizational paradox. As does the end goal for an expedition, the broad vision for an institution does not change. It makes perfect expeditionary sense to stop using scuba divers and replace them with un-staffed submersibles in the search for the Titanic because the water is too deep. Similarly, if a particular strategy for recruiting talented students is only yielding limited results, something should shift in the strategy, but the goal of admitting 100 new students would not.
Another dimension of expeditionary strategy involves the courage to forge ahead with a clear grasp of the past all the while anticipating the future. Without actually proceeding down the path, no one can ever know if the correct plan or that the right path was chosen. An organization won’t know until they are in the thick of the pitch that the tools available don’t work. A college or university must be nimble enough to fashion a new solution based on the old model, or create a new tool to help it over the hurdle. Again, an organizational paradox must be fostered: institutions must also be willing to shed unnecessary tools that are no longer needed, but all the while retaining the history, knowledge, and learning that went along with it. No mountain climbing team would toss the rope away because it is antiquated technology. Some “old-school” solutions can work quite well in future problems, and in the end, be the most simply applied, cost effective, and elegant solutions.
Build in a Capacity for Organizational Learning
As Claude Bernard would state, we must consider that “it’s what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.” This statement leads us to the next dimension of ESD: building in a capacity for organizational and individual learning. Professional development for its own sake is not as poignant as professional development linked directly to solving institutional problems or building skills to advance the organization. As employees grow, so does the organization. In effect, one piece of an ESD plan will include active engagement in on-going team and individual development designed to empower a close knit team as well as hone individual talents tuned to the task at hand. Employees should feel empowered to tear down operational/institutional barriers to progress. This amounts to building in another organizational paradox: one institutional foot must be firmly planted in its history and tradition all the while talented employees must feel able and empowered to challenge the same tradition. This is the notion of holding onto core ideology and values. Without the ability to build new structures organically from the ground up, the barriers currently in place become firmly entrenched stifling entrepreneurial spirit. Institutions must also keep an ear turned toward their environment. Organizational actors should practice and become expert at picking up clues from other expeditions and the changing climate in an ongoing effort to guide their efforts and learn from others both internal and external to the institution. For example, identifying key characteristics of the successes and failures of other institutions is one method for fostering organizational learning.
Empower Expeditionary Leadership
Another dimension that unleashes the potential of ESD involves building expeditionary leadership. Expedition leadership must incorporate a style that promotes and fosters leadership at all levels of the organization. Much as a Marine Corps Special Forces unit follows the team member with the most knowledge applicable to the given situation – regardless of rank – a college must build in a leadership structure that acknowledges given titles, but yields authority to the appropriate leader to lead at the appropriate time. In turn, the person with the greatest skill in any given situation should feel a responsibility to lead for the good of the organization. In an interactive, exciting and supportive organization, shirking leadership responsibility would simply not be an option. When not leading, good people become excellent followers. Thus, cultivating quality followership is equally as important as developing leadership. A model expeditionary leader integrates the team via the business of gathering information, assessing a situation, and calls on the talents of each individual to lead according to task at hand.
Foster Organizational Research and Development
Today, colleges and universities are considered hotbeds for academic and intellectual advancement. Ironically, rarely do principles identified in the classrooms or laboratories get tested within the organization itself. This results in one of the ultimate academic ironies articulated by Ashby (1963, p. 93) that echoes to this day:
All over the country these groups of scholars, who would not make a decision about the shape of a leaf or the derivation of a word or the author of a manuscript without painstakingly assembling the evidence, make decisions about admission policy, size of universities, staff-student ratios, content of courses, and similar issues, based on dubious assumptions, scrappy data, and mere hunch (in Dill, 1999, 149).
Unlike the business world, most colleges and universities do not run a profit. Even though expeditionary strategy evolves as pitfalls are discovered, most institutions are without a proper pool of funds for research and development and are unable to test and apply new organizational structures or experiment with various operational solutions. Moreover, experimentation with new and innovative organizational structures within an institution suffers from heavy resistance. Because colleges and universities funds are limited, any application of ESD must be tempered with a realistic look at the budget. This leads to one essential piece to place at the head of any strategic plan. Institutions must put generation of quality and multiple sources of revenues at the top of the plan. Not only will doing so secure substantially different revenue streams for a campus, but will also aid in the adoption of an expeditionary strategy.
In sum, Expeditionary Strategy Development involves the following steps or dimensions. First, a planning team must assess strengths, weaknesses, identify key pieces of a college’s history and traditions, and perform an analysis of the status quo. Second, energy must be spent on defining and envisioning the future and setting goals that stretch the conceptualization of the institution that provides a unique or special niche for the institution. The ultimate target is to become an institution that leads others to the future. These goals are then reconciled with the initial assessment and a plan of action is developed. Meshed into the plan should be mechanisms for learning and skill development, opportunities for varied leadership, and incorporate ongoing assessment, feedback, and regular adjustment of the plan itself.
Most campus structures are very similar with few exceptions to the traditional hierarchical rule. Continuing to employ a heterogeneous set of change strategies across a homogeneous organizational structures or mimicking other institutions in the delivery of services simply puts a college at the status quo, not ahead of it. With its organizational eyes on the fundamental purpose of higher education – production of high quality, productive members of society – there must be a better way to conduct the expedition or higher education enterprise. Application and further expansion of the Expeditionary Strategy Development tenets set forth here in may be one antidote to the isomorphic state of the postsecondary knowledge industry. In the end, ESD could fundamentally reshape the machinery by which a college or university runs its operation to better equip and serve its students
- Read the ESD Solution
- Present ESD to your management team in a meeting
- Discuss it
- Modify it
- Suggest builds to improve or change it
- Give it a whirl
- If it doesn't work, go back to what you were doing before
This is one of my favorite slogans I read a long while ago on a piece of art: "The irony is this: If you don't go in, you can't find out." I'm curious to see if any one else out there finds this useful.
In the end, what I was trying to do was craft a new approach to building strategy such that it was useful for educational leaders, and the overall aim is that it may transcend the boundaries and serve all organizations well. Time will tell.
Rogerio - I'll have to check it out over at the Harvard location; which is splendidly ironic given that Poter was at Harvard when he developed his five forces.
Matt - I'm wondering if Porters five forces are used in business settings or if it's mainly in the classrooms of MBA programs across the globe. Even so, you are correct. Models are not usually useful in their pure forms as a complete means of diagnosing and fixing strategy - or anything for that matter. Which leads me to one of my fundamental beliefs - that high quality leadership/management is way more art than science, and that a blended approach that the individual customizes, develops and perfects/augments over time is the best means to the ends.
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I think every framework has it place and use. Porter's Five Forces are great for analyzing the current industry situation or a threat of new trends. But his framework doesn't talk about the future or challenging uncontested white space. That's why you need to use Porter's ideas to understand where you are today, Hamel's and Prahalad's idea to create strategy for the future, Blue Ocean Strategy for uncontested space, and your strategy for designing organizations that think strategically.
Hope this helps.
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I recommend a look on Umair Haque "Why Ideals are the New Business Models" @ Harvard Business Review Blog.
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