Strategie als argumentenfabriek (2009)

Strategie als een argumentenfabriek

Om maar met de deur in huis te vallen: ik weet op basis van het boek ‘Strategie maakt het verschil’ (SDU 2009) nog niet zo zeker of strategie het verschil maakt. Het gaat hier om een verzameling van 25 gebundelde artikelen over strategie naar aanleiding van het afscheid van prof Jan Eppink aan de Vrije Univeriteit Amsterdam. Zoiets wordt een liber amicorum (vriendenboek dus) genoemd en daarvan mag je geen zwaar kritische beschouwingen over het vak verwachten. De redacteuren hebben een manmoedige poging gedaan de artikelen logisch te clusteren in mandjes als ‘strategie en de economische crisis’ en ‘strategie en mensen’. Evenzogoed zou ik een indeling kunnen maken in mandjes met titels als ‘artikelen die al op de plank lagen’, ‘artikelen waarin eigen stokpaardjes nog een keer worden behandeld’ en ‘artikelen waar wel werk van is gemaakt’.

Maar ook ik loop tegen hetzelfde probleem aan als de redacteuren van deze bundel. Hoe kan ik iets zinnigs voor de potentiele lezers van de bundel melden? In het boek komen 25 auteurs aan het woord die strategie al jaren als hun vak hebben. Ik moet er dus op kunnen vertrouwen dat ik met deze bundel een goed beeld krijg van het vak. Om focus aan te brengen tijdens het lezen heb ik gezocht naar antwoorden op twee vragen: wat is strategie nu precies (1) en van welke ontwikkelingen of inzichten is in het vak sprake (geweest) (2)?

Wat is strategie (1) ? In het boek zijn diverse omschrijvingen te vinden. Bijvoorbeeld op pagina 55: ‘Eerst is het besluiten met welke producten en markten je concurrentie wilt aangaan en waar je je in de waardeketen wilt bevinden. Ten tweede gaat strategie over hoe het bedrijf een competitief voordeel behaalt en behoudt in elk van de gekozen product-markt combinaties; hoe trekken we klanten aan en hoe houden we die klanten in de toekomst.’ Of op pagina 142: ‘Strategie is het overall plan om door de gerichte inzet van mensen en middelen een gunstige positie te verwerven.’ Met wat moeite kan ik er nog wel een paar oplepelen maar een strakke en uitgekristalliseerde definitie ontbreekt in deze bundel, het is meer dat door het lezen van de artikelen een beeld ontstaat van wat strategie zou kunnen zijn. Jammer, want ik denk dat de lezer van dit boek geholpen zou zijn bij het vooraf geven van een overkoepelende omschrijving van waar strategie voor staat en waar auteurs in hun artikel naar kunnen verwijzen of gemotiveerd van hadden mogen afwijken.

Ontwikkelingen en inzichten in het vak (2) in willekeurige volgorde:

  • Strategie is in de afgelopen decennia verhuisd van de stafafdeling naar het hart van de organisatie.
  • De scheiding tussen het formuleren of opstellen van een strategie en de uitvoering daarvan is kunstmatig. Te strak sturen in de uitvoering op de afwijkingen ten opzichte van de plannen is rigide en leidt vaak tot ongewenste uitkomsten. Het gaat om een voortdurende interactie tussen strategie en uitvoering waarin wordt gecheckt of de strategie met de gebruikte vooronderstellingen nog adequaat is.
  • Cultuur en historie van een bedrijf bepalen mede hoe bij een gegeven strategie in geval van bijvoorbeeld een economische crisis wordt gereageerd.
  • Participatie bij besluitvorming reduceert de weerstand die bij veranderingen in organisaties optreedt.
  • Het strategisch denkmodel van Jan Eppink (‘strategie in 3’ waarin onderscheid wordt gemaakt in spreiding, positionering en samenwerking op verschillende assen) kan zijn nut bewijzen in andere disciplines zoals HRM (in artikel 15 wordt de loopbaanstrategie beschreven aan de hand van het Eppink-model) en branche-organisaties (strategische samenwerking brancheorganisaties, uitgewerkt in het ‘propellermodel’, artikel 19 en 20).
  • Strategie bij overheden gaat anders, hier kan de Eppink-aanpak niet zonder meer worden toegepast. In artikel 18 komt Piet van Elswijk op een verfrissende manier tot een eigen interpretatie van het Eppink-model voor de overheid.
  • Wet- en regelgeving is nodig om grote bedrijven te dwingen tot innovatie. Zie hiervoor artikel 6 waarin de ontwikkeling en toekomst van de elektrische auto wordt beschreven. Wist u dat rond 1910 de elektrische auto een volwaardige concurrent voor de benzine-auto was? Er bestond toen al een distributienetwerk voor het opladen van accu’s en de elektrische auto’s haalden 120 km/uur bij een actieradius van 160 km.
  • Eerlijk gezegd, niet echt schokkend deze inzichten (met uitzondering van de laatste, die is ‘shocking’), hier zit blijkbaar niet de toegevoegde waarde van dit boek. Waar die volgens mij wel ligt is bij het aanstippen van enkele relevante onderzoeksvragen rondom strategie. Het boek levert minstens drie thema’s voor verder onderzoek op:

  • Hierboven al even genoemd: wat betekent strategie in de non-profit sector? Artikel 18 en 24 gaan hier dieper op in. Het gaat om majeure problemen met grote sociale en economische impact en er gelden andere wetmatigheden die actueler dan ooit zijn.
  • Meer onderzoek naar waardevernietiging in plaats van naar waardecreatie. Iedereen ziet dat er sprake is van grote ego’s in de top, van mismanagement, van bureaucratie, van discutabele fusies en overnames. Hoe zit dat, waarom gebeurt dat, hoort dat er gewoon bij of is dat te voorkomen? Artikel 8 gaat hier op in.
  • Meer onderzoek naar waar het wringt tussen korte en langere termijn, naar tijdelijk voordeel voor het ene bedrijf versus langdurige schade aan de keten of de maatschappij. In het Westen is meer focus op de korte termijn, op cash, op altijd haast en op ’time is money’. In het Oosten lijkt meer sprake van rust, van langere termijn samenwerking, van ’time to get connected’. Artikel 7 gaat hier op in.
  • En als ik zo het boek nog een keer doorblader ontstaat er ook een ander beeld van wat strategie is. Het is een rode draad die met enige goede wil in dit strategieboek is terug te vinden: strategie vanuit een argumentatietheoretische invalshoek, het onderwerp van artikel 12. Strategie moet zich afspelen rondom dilemma’s, schijnbare tegenstrijdigheden waarvan de rafelige randen door spits en creatief denken samen met de belanghebbenden worden weggepoetst. Sterker nog: rondom dilemma’s die ertoe doen ontstaan doorbraken. Artikel 14 van Fons Trompenaars presenteert een overkoepelende aanpak rondom steeds terugkerende ‘golden’ dilemmas tussen de vijf stakeholders van bedrijven (werknemers, aandeelhouders, klanten, maatschappij en efficientie). Strategie als ‘a dilemma reconciliaton workshop that offers a methodology to elicit and deal with such dilemmas’. Artikel 13 tenslotte houdt een pleidooi voor het meer gebruik maken van modellen bij het formuleren van strategieen, want een model structureert de manier van denken en maakt de voor- en nadelen van bepaalde keuzes transparant.

    We zijn terug bij af, back to basics. Strategie is ‘in the end’ het helder krijgen van de echt belangrijke issues, dilemma’s en problemen. Vervolgens het inventariseren van de partijen en hun belangen rondom deze dilemma’s. Dan het gestructureerd verzamelen van alle argumenten voor en tegen. Het bij elkaar brengen van de argumenten, het inwegen, het modelleren, de onderlinge relaties transparant maken. En dan sleutelen aan de vooronderstellingen om tot aanpakken te komen die voor alle partijen beter uitpakken. In wezen was dit wat we begin jaren negentig deden bij het Centraal Planbureau met studies als ‘scanning the future’ (wat weer gebaseerd was op het scenario-denken van Shell). In wezen is dit ook waarom ik de visuele schema’s van ‘de argumentenfabriek’ van Frank Kalshoven in de Volkskrant zo verfrissend vind. Maar ja, dat staat dus allemaal niet in dit boek.

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