by Edited by Carol Zarrow

Book Reviews: Reads to Boost Your Strategy-Savvy and Focus

Feb 01, 20043 mins

Strategy x 3

Guilt-ridden about your company’s outdated?or nonexistent?strategic plan? Three recently published books may restore your confidence that your company can succeed at this vitally important task.

So why exactly does the topic of strategic planning raise corporate angst levels? Perhaps, as Stephen J. Wall suggests in On the Fly, it’s because strategic planning requires confronting unpleasant realities, such as change and uncertainty.

Wall, a consultant in strategic management and leadership, argues in this engaging and well-written book that in spite of their aversion to the process of strategic planning, organizations actually need strategic focus now more than ever. Instead of the traditional plug-and-play method of strategic planning, however, companies need a “meta-strategy,” not a strategy so much as a method of doing strategy that’s essentially a process of continual learning.

Key to this approach is top-to-bottom involvement, where people at all levels of the company contribute to strategic decisions. The result, Wall says, is not a static plan but an outlook for the long run that can flex and adapt to changing business conditions.

One topic that’s not specifically addressed in On the Fly is that of technology strategy and its integration with overall corporate strategy. If interest among readers of CIO is any indicator, however, it’s clear that the Balanced Scorecard metric developed by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton covers that niche for many IT executives. The publication of Strategy Maps is a hat trick for the authors, with their previous books, The Balanced Scorecard (1996) and The Strategy-Focused Organization (2000).

The authors believe three components are required for a strategy to be successfully executed: its description, its measurement and its management. “Strategy maps”?visual representations of how a strategy diffuses throughout an organization?are gaining acceptance as a natural and powerful means of description, they say. One caveat, however: Readers new to the Balanced Scorecard concept should not start with this one, but bone up with one (or both) of the authors’ earlier books.

Even older than PowerPoint slides as a “visual representation of strategy” is the game of chess. Its “strategists” are the chess masters and grand masters who over centuries developed the game’s stratagems, attacks and defenses that bear their names (Alekhine’s Defense, for example). In Every Move Must Have a Purpose, author Bruce Pandolfini (himself a chess master and coach) asserts that chess principles make excellent advice in the business world. Each chapter is devoted to one principle and concludes with a quick business analogy to drive the point home. The best advice this book offers?and it’s inadvertently?is that playing chess is an excellent way to develop analytical and strategic skills. Every Move makes a persuasive case that the strategists of the Royal Game were and are indeed a group of geniuses, eccentrics and cutthroats who could easily go toe-to-toe on strategy with a Larry Ellison or Jack Welch.

-Carol Zarrow

CIO Best-Seller List

5. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

By Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

Portfolio, 2003

4. Now, Discover Your Strengths:

By Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton

The Free Press, 2001

3. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

By Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Crown Publishing Group, 2002

2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t

By Jim Collins

HarperCollins Publishers, 2001

1. In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington

By Robert Rubin and Jacob Weisberg

Random House, 2003

SOURCE: Data from December 2003, compiled by Borders Group, Ann Arbor, Mich.