Kim Warren, a professor at London Business School and author of Strategy Dynamics explains why the strategy profession requires fundamental change.
What is wrong with strategy right now?
The strategic planning profession is not in a particularly good place. There are some good strategy consultants and some good strategic analysts and managers within companies, but generally there are some major failings in strategic management. If we had decent strategic management we would never have had the huge crises of 2001 and 2008.
What are the fundamental issues?
The problem goes back to the academic roots of the subject: we don’t have a codified knowledge base. Everyone knows what a lawyer needs to know in order to do their job. There’s no such requirement for strategists: people are left to pick up bits and pieces from a MBA or short courses. We need to codify what you need to know in order to do strategic analysis and strategic management properly. I’m not pretending that is easy. Good strategic decisions need to reflect an understanding of a variety of disciplines from marketing to HR and operations, so it’s a tough task.
Are you pleased to see the work the SPS is doing to improve the professionalisation of strategy?
The worry among academics is that strategy is being done poorly. They put all this effort in to teaching MBAs and executive courses but little ends up showing up in the real world. Part of what the SPS is doing is trying to bring academics and practitioners together, and this is clearly essential. The ladder of recognition is also a useful step in helping establish the profession. However, there is still much to be done. I would like to see a codified knowledge base, examinations that really test practitioners on that knowledge, and then recognition alongside that.
What developments in strategy interest you at the moment?
My work sits at the boundary of strategic development and implementation. The strategic work in business schools tends to be focused on the question of where to compete. More recently it has looked at the resources and capabilities available and those required in order to be successful. The problem is that these sorts of strategic decisions only happen very rarely. In between it is a question of implementation: the company has to be skilled at making the right decisions across the whole organisation all the time. We don’t have anything in the strategic field to help us do that. So it’s a question of how we work out what to do at all times in order to drive performance.