by Doreen Yarnold

Bottom up strategy

The strategic direction setting outlined in this topic is a very neat and seductive process and works well where there is stability, but it does not work quite so well where things are changing fast. In such cases, aspects of the strategy often bubble up informally from those lower levels where things are actually being done and managers are closer to customers and operations on a day-to-day basis.

This is emergent strategy and, for some more staid organisations, it’s scary.

We try a bunch of stuff, we see what works, and we call that our strategy.

Dennis Bakke – CEO of AES

So, as a manager, you may well be involved in this kind of emergent or bottom up strategy development. In this case, you should be aware of how this can operate within your own team, staying alert and aware for strategy ideas that bubble up from below.

These will often manifest as complaints from people about the restrictions of a system that stops them serving customers well, or contributes to poor quality on a production line, or any of a number of things that don’t work well from their point of view. Good people will then try and find ways to ‘get around’ the limiting systems.

This is a clear sign that the systems do not support the overall strategy, especially at a tactical level. If, on the other hand, the systems are clearly supporting the strategy, then the complaints might indicate that it is the existing strategy itself that is flawed.

It is likely that you are also, at the same time, involved in developing plans to implement strategy that has been handed down from on high, so there can be a need for a balancing act between these sometimes competing strategies.