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A strategist’s strategy

A strategist’s strategy

David Linstrom, head of Practical Strategy, sees worrying trends in the way New Zealand business is increasingly being managed offshore

David Linstrom, head of Practical Strategy, sees worrying trends in the way New Zealand business is increasingly being managed offshore. This country has some very talented managers who are increasingly being told how to run their local operation rather than being given the responsibility to make decisions appropriate to their market. “What they are being told is that raw ability to understand local challenges and opportunities don’t really matter,” says Linstrom. “In a strategic sense, that takes away our ability to react to the marketplace.”Linstrom, is a Balanced Scorecard specialist who believes that responsibility should be cascaded throughout an organisation to meet the challenges of local business. Sure, he says, strategies can be signed off in Australia or Singapore, but head office is hardly in a position to understand local needs. Linstrom believes management should be based on accountability, not command and control. How could anyone disagree with that?But there’s more to strategy than accountability, of course. Linstrom says one of the great weaknesses of businesses that have bought strategy management tools is that they have tended to regard them as just that — tools. Part of the problem lies with CIOs, he says. When he was consulting for Balanced Scorecard specialist Gentia he found that many CIOs didn’t want to talk about strategy — they wanted to talk about what the application could do. They wanted to talk about how it could be integrated into the back-end data warehouse projects and the datamart projects, and so on. As for as Linstrom was concerned, those topics were fine but they indicated a disconnect from the senior management team, which wanted to talk about strategic delivery, measurement, performance management and accountability. What they didn’t want to talk about was the porting and the tools. One of the hidden concerns of those who focused on the tools rather than a process that would involve them taking responsibility was that if things went wrong they would have to accept blame. In Linstrom’s words, if a strategy failed a manager could, in effect, pin the tail on the donkey and say the tools were at fault.“What I decided to do was move away from the tool for a while because the term Balanced Scorecard was becoming marginalised. I decided to develop my own methodology focused on strategic delivery.” Linstrom joined forces with Paul Hannay, who was taking a break from his performance manager role at Fletcher Challenge at the time. What emerged was an internet-based framework for developing and implementing strategy. It didn’t happen all at once — Linstrom and Hannay did a great deal of research on how to deliver the project over the web. “We did research into why people bought on the web, how they bought on the web, the facilities of online transactions in real time … When we started we knew what we wanted to do but we didn’t know how to get there. That was the challenge — and it took us 14 months to develop the content and the vehicle and get it to market.”Linstrom’s own career reflects his determination to succeed. He started out in the Air Force as an electrical engineer, then decided to focus on the real driver in his life — business management. He returned to university and gained a double major in finance and marketing, then left to join a consulting company as an analyst. It was there that his real strengths emerged as he found himself gravitating away from identifying and investigating problems to offering remedial advice. Eventually he found himself focusing on the Balanced Scorecard methodology and working as a consultant at Gentia.Linstrom quickly recognised that few companies understood what Balanced Scorecard really meant. “What happened was that I ended up consulting to those companies on how to develop and implement strategy as well as owning the tool.” The partnership approach that Linstrom favoured did not match Gentia’s strategy and so he eventually decided to set up his own consultancy. It wasn’t too great a step from there to the online offering.At this stage Linstrom is still working on finalising his business model for the web. The product is complete but he needs to work out, among other things, appropriate pricing for his market. The benefit of the system is that it can be used as a step-by-step approach with all the advantages that software can provide. A simple touch of a button can take you to the point you need to work on today.You can find Practical Strategy’s website at www.practicalstrategy.net. And, of course, you can read Linstrom’s regular column in CIO.

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