Trying to do everything for everyone is not possible – but how do you prioritise? This paper in the Harvard Business Review looks at different strategies.
The one thing you need to know about managing Functions: They Require their own Strategy Roger L. Martin and Jennifer Riel
The authors say that every function in a company has a strategy, whether or not it is written down and whether or not it is part of an official strategic-planning process. The goal the strategy serves may be implicit, having just evolved over time, and the choices involved may have emerged without discussion. The actions may be ineffectual in achieving the goal but the strategy exists anyway.
The paper identifies two such implicit strategies:
1. Do Everything the Business Wants. (“The Servile strategy“). In an extreme case the function tries to be all things to all people, over-promises and ends up being overworked and ineffective.
2. Put the Function First. (“The Imperial strategy”). In an extreme case the functional managers feel that they know what Best Practice should look like and follow it with little attention to how it aligns with company strategy.
Personally, I suspect that R&D departments seldom fall into either extreme but the paper makes a strong case that functions such as R&D should have their own strategy, clearly articulated and agreed at Board level.
There is only one case study: that of the HR department at the Four Seasons Hotel chain. But there is an interesting side box illustrating how large corporations moved from centralisation to decentralisation and are now moving back, leaving the role of functions such as R&D less clear than it used to be.
Accessing this paper:
The one thing you need to know about managing Functions: They Require their own Strategy – Roger L. Martin and Jennifer Riel Harvard Business Review July-August 2019 pp104-113 HBR Reprint R1904G
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Reviewed by Rick Mitchell