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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Winning Strategies!

In politics or in business, just think strategically to win.

Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - 16:00

We usually focus on lean and Six Sigma concepts as ideas for providing improvement. But there are many other approaches around the world that are insightful and worth noting as lessons learned for business and other organizations. For example, during the month of April 2009, an estimated 714 million Indians cast their vote, using India's unique electronic voting machines. And less than a year ago, President Obama used text messaging to reach millions of voters. What can we learn from these radical uses of technology?

In both of these elections, we saw brilliant political strategy that led to unprecedented results. In the United States, President Obama became the first African American president. In India, the Congress party convinced a mix of many different constituencies to vote for them, retaining them in power for a second consecutive term. In the United States, we voted in a younger president, opting for change; in India, people voted in a 78-year old prime minister, opting emphatically for an era of stability. In either case, each was a phenomenal event.

Was it brilliant strategy? Was it how they communicated their vision? Was it the way they executed it? Are there lessons organizations can learn from them as they prepare to compete in the future?

In today's economic times, organizations are cutting costs, implementing lean and Six Sigma methodologies, and trying to convince customers to continue to do business with them. They create pockets of excellence, while overall the organization struggles along. While survival is imperative, should they not be thinking of competing for the future as evidenced by the political strategies in the above two cases?

Thinking strategically (thereby preparing for the future) is an interesting phenomenon. Organizations know they will benefit from it, but they don't necessarily know how to do it. Understanding the role of strategic thinking and developing it as a core competency is a skill organizations need if they are to steer their ship to profitable shores.

Interestingly, business strategy borrows a lot from war strategy as evidenced by the popularity of books such as Sun Tsu's Art of War (Oxford University Press, 1963). But what can we learn from war strategy? What are some of the characteristics of effective strategies that can be applied within a business context?

A crisis for an organization can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. It spurs the organization into not only creating an effective short-term strategy, but in executing it as well. Just look at how organizations such as Chrysler (back in 1990) and the banks (in the current financial meltdown) have come up with turnaround strategies in such a short time. A winning strategy allows an organization to respond to crisis decisively. It also motivates an organization not to get caught in this situation again and triggers an ongoing strategy review.

A close colleague recently stated, "I can't tell you how many times I heard from my bosses with the start of any new initiative that this was the No.1 priority. When asked, 'what about priority No.31,?' no answer came forth. When enough of these happen, an employee usually starts to prioritize on his or her own. When everyone starts doing this, no strategy pronouncement helps." Winning Strategies are good at setting priorities.

One aspect of President Obama's campaign that is recognized for its brilliant execution was the mobilization of resources. He used technology to mobilize young minds right at the grassroots level. Why are our established organizations having difficulty in doing this? Is it because there's too much focus on immediate tactics rather than a clear long-term strategy? Or is it because of the inertia of past success? Are organizations able to perform a thorough evaluation of available resources needed to steer them to compete in the future? What is their cash flow, available discretionary time, team member skills, budget for new initiatives, size of the sales force, customer desires, existing technology, and so forth?

Following in the footsteps of Roosevelt, President Obama utilized the dominant communications technology of his day (in this case, text messaging), to connect with the voters, conducting virtual fireside chats that endeared him to the American public. He articulated his agenda and communicated his message of hope as part of the daily dialogue. Winning strategies communicate their message effectively. Employees need to understand clearly where their organization is headed, how they will get there, and how long it will take, before they can act on it.

Winning strategies offer a clear vision. Organizations are able to think beyond the results of current initiatives, be they surviving the current turbulent times, dealing with inflated accounts payable, decreasing sales, or achieving specific savings as a result of lean Six Sigma initiatives. Strategically-minded organizations focus on the future, positioning the organization for stronger growth beyond the current economic crisis.

In summary, organizations need to invest in the skill of strategic thinking, so as to be able to:

  • Respond in a crisis decisively
  • Set organizational priorities
  • Mobilize resources
  • Communicate messages effectively across the organization
  • Provide a clear vision on where/how/when to go

What are your thoughts? What can your organization learn from the recent brilliantly executed political strategies? What can your quality department learn from these political strategies? What lessons does it have for your marketing department? While politicians have been learning from business, what can business learn from politicians?

We would like to hear back from you. Leave your comments for us below.


About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.