Strategic Navigation Theory

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Strategic Navigation Theory
steve ochonma, Management Consultant, Nigeria

Strategic Navigation: Conceptual Framework.
Within the last decade of the twentieth century, a new ground was broken in the area of strategic management. William C. Miller (1993) was at the forefront in this breakthrough. His idea on this new paradigm shows how new levels of quality and breakthrough results are possible by building on and going beyond principles of TQM, Continuous Quality Improvement (CI) and Operational Excellence Management (OEM). Miller termed his concept as Quantum Quality or Strategic Compassing.

William H. Dettmer in his book “ Strategic Navigation: A Systems Approach to Business strategy”, 2003, introduced a new model for strategy development: a synthesis of the framework of military planning, the speed and flexibility of maneuver warfare, and the logical verifiability of cause and effect, which he labeled “The Constraint Model”. The result according to Dettmer, is “strategy on the wall”—a top-to- bottom visual picture of where the organization is going and how it will get there for everyone to see.

Also, Miller (1993), on his part argued that the traditional and pre-21st century conceptional models of management have followed a “driving’ model of pick a goal (destination), learn about the conditions (along the routes), set a plan, and then carefully follow the plan, with controls in place to minimize errors in implementing the plan you would arrive safely. Miller (1993) insists that such models as management by objectives (MBO) and most forecast-based strategic planning concepts are all based on this model.

Again, some scholars have described these traditional and contemporary models and concepts as strategic road-mapping and argued that its aim at minimizing risk by following pre-determined plans in a strictly controlled manner could only work well in a stable environment, with no breakdowns or loss of control. These assumptions are said to be based on ‘if’ conditions that cannot be relied upon anymore, in a 21st century globally competitive and turbulent business environment.

The 21st century business is more or less warfare and the business place, is like an airplane in fight, facing multi-dimensional forces at play, and various uncertainties along the route. It is generally believed that an airplane at take off is at most 5% on-course. The other 95% factor of safe arrival is dependent on the navigational capacity and capability of the pilots. The pilot has to compass seas, mountainous terrains, cloudy and stormy weather, and pass through all kinds of turbulent and opposing forces before arriving at his destination. Again at sea, the sailors must compass and navigate through similar difficult terrains, and weather to get the ship to a safe destination. The main factor in the above two illustrations, in achieving results, are not pre-determined but based on the idiosyncrasies of the pilot or sailor.

Therefore, Miller (1993) is of the opinion that the strategic road-mapping models or the “driving” model of managing a business doesn’t suit the world of post-industrial information age business. Change happens too fast, with frequent discontinuities in economic, technological, social and political life. William C. Miller (1993) described it as being same as driving through an earthquake-prone-swamp, with shifting sands in a stormy and unstable environment; leading to unreliable pathways, breakdowns, and loss of control.

As Prigogine with Stengers (1997: cited by Hillier, 2015) wrote in The End of Certainty, the world is inherently far-from-equilibrium and unstable. Therefore, “instability is necessary for development. Situations that are ‘out of equilibrium’ are likely to be far more common than stable situations and are a necessity for development and progress” (De Roo 2010, Cited by Hillier, 2015). There is thus a need for planning theory and practices that engage with indeterminacy and uncertainty, with multiple possible alternative futures, and recognizing that people’s desires are likely to change over the life of a strategic plan, and that many decisions need to be exploratory, experimental and adaptable (Hillier, 2015).


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