By Dr. Tomi Wahlstrom |
There is a need for strategic management now more than ever before. With the ongoing pandemic and other environmental issues, the sport industry is unpredictable at this time. Therefore, many sports organizations are unable to manage strategically. They may do some strategic planning or simple financial forecasting but this is not true strategic management. Strategic planning is a C-suite activity and involves only the top leadership team. Strategic management, on the other hand, involves everyone in the organization. In order for it to take place, everyone has to be aware of the strategy used and the mission of the organization. They have to be able to internalize the strategy and understand their part in it. Employees must be able to verbalize the mission with their own words rather than simply memorizing it. They must agree with it and identify with it. These are not trivial issues as it is very hard to develop a strategy supportive and mission oriented organizational culture. It requires participative leadership with employee engagement. Without a strategy supportive culture, implementation of any strategy is impossible. Everyone can plan but it is much more difficult to execute. Successful strategic formulation and implementation during these challenging times requites a new strategic management paradigm.
Currently, many forces in the environment may complicate strategic management. People are increasingly working from home and demanding flexibility. Managing a virtual team is much more difficult than managing a team on site. At the same time, baby boomer managers are retiring in ever-growing numbers and leadership positions are taken by generation X leaders or even millennials. This creates a cultural shift in itself resulting in adjustment as leadership styles change. Technology is becoming a more important factor in interpersonal communication further limiting opportunities for face-to-face interactions. People tend to communicate via text and email more than in person or even by phone. However, written communication is not as rich and does not allow non-verbal communication. It is likely to cause more miscommunication and misunderstandings. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of conflict that requires, ironically, face-to-face meetings to resolve and manage. It is a difficulty cycle and managers are more and more challenged to keep up with the pace. This is further complicated by the fact that virtual work is increasingly asynchronous. Employees are having less and less synchronous interactions. They start experiencing isolation and loneliness that lead to increased stress that then needs to be managed. In the end, the organizational reality may appear absurd and chaotic to many employees and managers. The demands seem to be overwhelming. In one hand, we need more in-person interaction but on the other hand, our environment is shifting to the opposite direction. This is an impossible dilemma and one that many managers are yet to solve.
All of the internal factors described above should be enough to discourage even the most passionate and committed leader. However, there is much more to worry about. Workforce has become increasingly diverse and the ongoing political turmoil has made everyone less likely to agree with each other. We are all living in an increasingly divided society with an increasing amount of conflict and unrest. With the external environment in a state of constant change and tension, strategic managers just cannot keep up with their ability to forecast and understand their competitive landscapes. Economic conditions are unpredictable and unstable, and the natural environment is changing constantly. All of the commonly observed external variables are in a constant flux. Projecting is almost impossible these days. Yet, it is more important than ever before to predict accurately. Those who successfully anticipate the shifts in the external environment tend to be more successful overall if they can adapt accordingly.
Strategies are typically determined by combining internal strengths and weaknesses with external opportunities and threats. However, with all of these factors changing so fast, how is a leader supposed to formulate any comprehensible strategies? One answer is to maintain an attitude of strategic intent and develop learning organizations that are flexible and risk tolerant. Leaders must promote innovation and creativity and instill trust within their organizations. Engaged and loyal employees tend to perform better and undertake actions that are consistent with the organization’s mission and strategies. They also tend to suggest strategies and tactics that the leaders may not have considered. Often, the best innovations come from the line employees. When employees are allowed to be involved in the strategic management process, they tend to be more committed to the outcomes and engaged with the processes. The almost absurd and chaotic environment does not need to be an obstacle. Instead, it can be an opportunity if leaders are able to let go of their need for control and motivate their teams. They can discuss challenges openly and honestly with employees and support them with their needs and anxieties. With the right kind of leadership paradigm, organizations can not only formulate effective strategies but also implement them effectively regardless of the environmental challenges, internal or external.
Dr. Tomi Wahlstrom is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.