Professor Stookey [Principles of Management – Umass Amherst] made a very good comment in the description for this post that Robbins and Coulter rely on "rationality, logic, and order" to describe strategy and how to implement it. In my mind the word strategy implies a logical and ordered plan of action. I feel that growing up, at least in this country, one is bombarded with the idea that strategy is a crucial component of a successful and happy life; upon graduating from high school your friends, family and it seems like everyone else asks you where you’ll be going to college, then, once you graduate college come the questions of where you’ll be working, living, and so on. Winning coaches are praised for their excellent "game plan", successful teachers for their encouraging plans, investment managers for their foresight in their investment strategy; it seems that much of the success we hear about is accredited to a good strategy. Robbins and Coulter cite ample examples of strategy being used to improve an organization [Heinz, UPS, Toyota, Xerox, PepsiCo, General Electric etc.] and blame poor performance on poor strategies, or lack of strategy, as on pg. 194 where the authors state "managers are struggling to find strategies that will help their organization succeed in such an environment" to describe the fledgling sales of the music industry. With this type of background, it was very surprising to see Andrew Inkpen and Nandan Choudhury argue for the absence of strategy, and the possible benefits of an non-existent strategy.
Just the other day I read on boston.com about the Googleplex [I’m having trouble find the story but will post the link if I’m successful] and how part of its strategy is to encourage its employees to dedicate a percentage [10-20%] of their work time to personal projects, the absence of a strategy within this strategy has proven successful for Google as its employees are motivated to innovate and expand on ideas they may have [pages.google.com was an invention based of one of these projects]. Although these personal projects are part of Google’s overall strategy of empowering employees to produce innovative products, Google has no expectations nor demands for these personal projects; they basically allow employees to experiment with ideas freely in hopes that some of those ideas will become viable products. Google definitely does have an explicit strategy, as defined by the textbook:
1) Mission – "Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful." [Google’s corporate information site]
2) External Analysis – Google continues to find and exploit opportunities in the market place, by publishing new products on rapid schedule [Google Maps, Google Earth, Blogger.com, Gmail, this list would get very long if I included everything]. The point here is that as a technology company Google must take advantage of opportunities, whether it’s innovating or matching a competitor’s programs; for Google, a threat is really considered an opportunity to expand, as their continual battle with Microsoft has proven by encouraging Google to pursue new areas, such as office productivity programs, long the exclusive domain of Microsoft.
3) Internal Analysis – Google’s core competencies are "searching and advertising"; they continue to improve these strengths by making it easier and easier for end-users to not only search digital content, but also to create their own content (which in turn allows those users to attract visitors, which in turn makes their content marketable, or at least play host to advertisers, which in turn allows Google to provide Adsense to those end-users) as their recent acquisition of Youtube.com shows.
Google then uses the three areas mentioned above to formulate and implement strategies and then evaluates its results. After spending all that time showing you the proof of the strategic management process at work at Google, it might surprise that I’ll also argue that Google does not have a strategy, at least not a corporate-wide strategy. One of the issues I had with the Inkpen-Choudhury article is that they take any small detail that may be emblematic of an absence of strategy and proclaim themselves victorious. For instance, with the example of Honda motorcycles, it’s clear that Honda did have a strategy, to expand to the U.S. and use the rich market as retail laboratory! Isn’t the strategy of lacking a strategy a type of strategy? It’s similar to saying that anarchy has no rules, but the principle of having no rules is in itself a rule.
Google, practices a very open strategy, which Inkpen and Choudhury might point to as a lack of strategy, take a look at the principles of software creation at Google: "These guidelines are, by necessity, broad. Software creation and distribution are complex and the technology is continuously evolving. As a result, some useful applications may not comply entirely with these principles and some deceptive practices may not be addressed here. This document is only a start, and focuses on the areas of Internet software and advertising. These guidelines need to be continually updated to keep pace with ever-changing technology." Google is constantly changing the focus of its company, from search and advertising at its beginning to full fledged office programs and even going against its starting principles of not offering financial advice or horoscopes. Google’s strategy is basically to not be tied down by one strategy. If they see an opportunity or threat emerge, Google acts on it appropriately at the time the opportunity or threat is identified. There is no plan in place on how to combat a competitors program or a failing business unit. Each decision is taken on an individual basis and many times they may exhibit contradicting views. For instance Google claims it is a tenant of user privacy rights, but taking a look at the Terms of Service for Google Checkout shows a completely different stand, one which is necessary for the proper implementation of a product like Google Checkout.
As the article notes, technology companies, Microsoft and Intel, employ[ed] a transitional strategy in order to keep up with the pace of technological advances. It’s ironic that as Microsoft and Intel developed they’ve become similar to traditional corporations in that they now use an explicit strategy. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Google has overtaken Microsoft as the dominant technology company of our day. I wonder if the authors of the article considered this transition to traditional corporate strategy as a possible future for the mavericks of strategy of 1995. Another interesting aspect of Google is that they do not utilize a strategy for portions of their business because technology is in a constant state of transition and because Google believes that the absence of a strategy empowers its employees to pursue innovative ideas that might not fit in with Google’s current stated goals!
The statement by Inkpen and Choudhury that "Management may use the absence of strategy to send unequivocal signals to both internal and external stakeholders of its preference not to engage in resource-consuming ceremony." (319) applies to Google here because not having a strategy makes Google seem more rebellious, which appeals to the Internet community’s principles of freedom and efficiency. It also appeals to investors because it shows them that Google is committed to remaining fresh and on the edge of technology.
Robbins and Coulter, although taking a potshot at the absence strategy ["…a few management writes claim that strategic planning is ‘dead’, most continue to emphasize its importance.", 181] also implicitly provide support for Inkpen and Choudhury when they note that "69 percent [of business owners] had strategic plans, and among those owners, 89 percent responded that they found their plans to be effective" (181). That means 31% of business owners do not implement a strategy, or are at least unaware of it, and that 11% that do use a strategy do not find it useful; that is a large proportion of owners who do not see the benefit of a strategy!