Kronos Implementation Strategy or Tactics?
Apr 05, 2010
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In my last blog in this series introducing the concepts of strategic reconciliation I touched on the elements of strategy itself. Our guest commentator was the Chinese general, Sun Tzu, who was a mover-and-shaker in the shock-and-awe business in the 6th century BC but whose theories have also been effectively translated and employed in other disciplines. Two of his ideas I revealed last time are pillars of the Kronos product line strategic reconciliation effort we employ with shock-and-awe at Improvizations. These ideas have some interesting parallels with Sun Tzu’s The art of War:
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”
“All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved."
The first idea is basic enough—no matter how good your Kronos implementation tactics are, if they are not aligned with an overall strategy, you will ultimately fail to achieve as much as expected. It also implies at some level it is better to err on the side of having a good strategy without tactics than the other way around—after all, delayed victory is better than rapid defeat. This is why we always start every project by learning what the governing strategy is (thus ensuring that there is one) before we try to align to it. Digging into Sun’s next thought, however, it appears that there exists an inherent and desirable separation between his tactics and his strategy. The strategy is not revealed or readily derived from those noisy, in-your-face activities known as tactics. (study note: Projects and Project Plans are, by definition, tactics.
Sun Tzu, of course, was speaking about his enemies being unable to derive his strategy from his tactics. I would argue, however, he probably kept his troops in the dark too. Not just in case they were captured but because they really didn’t need it to do their job. That’s the trademark of hierarchical leadership -- the answer to ‘Why are we here?’ changes dramatically as you move down the chain. It is fascinating to see how the answer from the same person changes depending on who is asking the question.
Imagine a cold and rainy night in China around 510 BC. Thousands of Sun Tzu’s troops begin to dig in after an unexpected, lightning march to the brink of the enemy’s most important city. Sun Tzu’s second in command returns from the columns and bows in front of his general. “The last of the divisions have arrived, Sir. They are freezing and hungry… may I ask why we are here in this unprotected valley?” “My good friend”, Sun Tzu replies “ We must appear at points the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where we are not expected”. The commander fakes a nod of understanding and walks off. A short while later a common foot soldier walks up to Sun Tzu and says, “What are we doing here? We are all freezing and hungry!” With a flash of his sword Sun Tzu’s addresses his soldier’s need and says, “Because I said so.” Although this display appeared to re-align the remaining troops they were, in reality, demoralized and failed to take the city.
Can you believe some people find it hard to apply Sun Tzu’s concepts in modern Society whereas others see them as timeless? Perhaps it depends on where you work and the kind of projects you have been part of. In my experience, the two biggest mistakes organizations make with their Workforce Management strategy and tactics are being either too vague or too extreme at the various levels in the workforce and/or stage of the project. When at a crossroads, opportunity or problem in a project one can’t afford to ignore the governing importance of strategy. By the same token, when the strategy is questioned by the implementer's, quoting some ancient prose or seeing the push-back as insubordination is highly demoralizing regardless of any inherent method to the madness.
The trick is to press the two sides up against each other at the right times and in the right measures and ask to questions very carefully. By injecting the appropriate amount of strategic context back into the tactics it ensures that those on the ground not only arrive at the destination but that their purpose in being there is also fulfilled. Conversely, by asking questions of management when the tactics seem a bit strange or painful gives important feedback as to one’s true position on the bamboo gantt chart.
In my next blog I will share two stories from the real world and current century. I will show where reconciliation was absent and someone was lost and where strategic reconciliation was employed and a company was saved. In the mean time, consider how the strategy and tactics (or leaders and implementer's) are in conflict in your organization or project and how you have been handling them.