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International Review of Strategic Management

"International Review of Strategic Management" Volume 4 - D E Hussey, editor: JohnWiley and Sons, 1993

Review by Mark McKergow

This annual series aims to provide a "critical review of developments and best practice instrategic management". In his fourth volume, David Hussey has taken vision and leadership as his theme, and has drawn together an interesting range of contributions. Of particular interest is Hussey's increasing contact with Japanese authors. One such original article is present here, and another was held over after delays in translation - a shame, as articles from this source are harder to come by in the West, and make a valuable addition such collections.

The book falls into three parts; a state of the art review of the role of analytic models in strategic management, seven papers on vision and leadership, and five papers on other, not altogether unrelated, topics. Some key strands of thinking are brought together in this volume and, although not all the papers are original, this book will once again deservedly find its way onto the shelves of those who seek to develop strategic approaches of their own rather than follow others' recipes.

The opening review by Carroll, Pandian and Thomas looks at the role of analytic models. This is takes inputs from a great sweep of sources, often in some detail. The authors start with a few well-timed words about the purpose of models as an aid to decision making by simplifying the complex world into more-or-less useable form. This simplifying process may, as the authors point out, be both a virtue and a vice, and a moment's thought is given to the biases that such models invariably carry. The authors refer to a wide range of conditions under which models perform quite well, and go on to make the questionable assumption that if this were not true, such models would not be expected to evolve and persist as they do. I'm not sure that the world is quite that straight forward - after all, wars, taxes and family rows evolve and persist, but the case for this being a voluntary and desirable state of affairs is far from clear. The authors might consider the alternatives to simplifying by analysis at some future stage.

There follows a dense and detailed review of the application of the applications of theoretical and empirical models at strategic business unit and corporate level. The article succeeds in being a valuable collection and collation of data, which is presented enthusiastically and somewhat relentlessly. I would have preferred a little more in the way of a "big picture" introduction to the subject before being rushed headlong into the details, and as a practising consultant would have some difficulty in drawing particular conclusions about the worth of models in particular situations.

The second part of the book is devoted to vision and leadership. It gives a welcome opportunity to read and study the views of several authors on this important subject. The section opens with a reprint of Gary Hamel and C K Prahalad's classic Harvard Business Review piece "Strategic Intent". Hamel and Prahalad assert that in order to gain strategic leadership on a global scale, organisations have to take a long term (10 - 20 years) view of their purpose and goals, and set out along their chosen road, whilst being flexible about the means of getting there. They quote Canon, Honda and Komatsu amongst others as organisations who have gone down this path. Although this seems unsurprising to some, experience of many Western competitors is that managers set much more conservative goals aimed at supporting share price and keeping raiders at bay. It is this very conservatism, combined with cries of "Be realistic!" from directors, that has ensured the gradual surrender of the West's markets to the East.

Hamel and Prahalad also challenge the ascendency of "advances" in strategy taking the form of typologies, heuristics and laundry lists, which act to reduce the choices considered by managers and lead to predictable and easily beaten strategies. Perhaps Carroll et al could have looked here before embarking on their own journey of analysis? This article is of the highest quality - insightful, well written, informative and challenging.

It is unsurprising, then, that not all of the other pieces in this collection don't quite match up. Colin Coulson-Thomas presents the results of his research into the effectiveness of "strategic visions" in practice. He concludes that the practice and the theory are some way apart, and then concludes by stating some simple and widely known key points (for example, "clear vision and strategy, top management commitment and communication skills are of crucial importance in the management of change") which seem to relate far more to the well-known theory than the disappointing practice. This is akin to advising Einstein to state Newton's theory more clearly upon finding out that the world didn't match it. It's surely no longer that managers don't know what to do -it's more that they don't actually do it. Perhaps this fact might form the basis of a future investigation.

Jagdish Parikh and Fred Neubauer present their view of corporate visioning in quite practical terms, and include the fascinating area of intuition as an important part of their thesis. Even if all the players in the game have the same information, it's how they "read" it and act that counts, and intuition and reflection are valuable tools in this process. John Nicholls 1990 article "Rescuing Leadership from Humpty Dumpty", which examines the way in which the word "leadership" is used to mean different things in different situations, is reproduced, together with a foreword reflecting on the original article in 1992. Nicholls' model, of leadership at meta, macro and micro levels, corresponding to leadership by the heart, head and hands is interesting and robust. Karen Soderberg contributes a useful discussion about the challenges facing management developers in tackling leadership.

The piece by Akira Ichikawa is a revelation. Entitled "Leadership As A Form Of Culture: Its Present and Future States in Japan", Ichikawa presents some strikingly original thoughts about leadership which are significantly different from the prevailing views of the previous chapters. He starts by discussing formal and informal power and influence, and states that;

"it is possible for subordinates to lead superiors if the subordinates learn and demonstrate the means to lead other people. It can also be possible for a business person to lead customers, or other people with whom he or she has business associations."

In a few sentences, Ichikawa moves our focus from the visionary leader at the top to a much wider sphere of leadership, within and without the organisation. He goes on to examine means of leading people, and spends time looking at the cultural aspects of leadership in Japan. This is a fascinating and original piece, which greatly enriches the collection.

The third section of the book has a variety of pieces on other, sometimes related, topics. There is important work here too. Ansoff, Sullivan et al present research findings of strategic success behaviours, leading to the conclusions that there are no universally applicable behaviours, and that the appropriate behaviours depend on the level of turbulence in which the organisation finds itself. If inappropriate behaviours are applied for the level of turbulence, sub-optimal results are produced. Ansoff draws together strands from a variety of sources, including Mintzberg, Porter and Quinn, in reaching his conclusions, which have far-reaching impact.

David Asch presents his case study of Rank Xerox (UK) in his usual well-written style, and documents some fascinating data, in particular on the impact of "perception of strategy" within the organisation. Kenneth David and Harbir Singh's work on the impact of cultural differences is packed with insight, in particular its use of several case studies including Sony/CBS and Deloittes/Touche Ross. The collection concludes with Hussey's own contribution on "Effective Management Training Development", and an interesting although somewhat isolated contribution from W Keith Schilit on relative returns on investment from venture capital stocks, bonds and other instruments.

This final section somehow fails to have the same impact as the rest of the collection. Perhaps this is to do with the way that the pieces on vision and leadership sustain atheme, allowing the reader's thoughts to develop, whilst the later pieces stand alone in isolation. Another minor reservation is that of the length of time taken between the pieces being produced and the book actually appearing. However, this is another important collection from David Hussey, which has something to offer to most serious academics, planners and consultants.

"International Review of Strategic Management", Long Range Planning, 28, No 5, pp 116 -117 (1995) (Book review)