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How Managers' Everyday Decisions Create or Destroy Your Company's Strategy

By Clark Gilbert, Joseph L. Bower

Senior executives have long been frustrated by the disconnection between the plans and strategies they devise and the actual behavior of the managers throughout the company. This article approaches the problem from the ground up, recognizing that every time a manager allocates resources, that decision moves the company either into or out of alignment with its announced strategy. A well-known story—Intel's exit from the memory business—illustrates this point. When discussing what businesses Intel should be in, Andy Grove asked Gordon Moore what they would do if Intel were a company that they had just acquired. When Moore answered, "Get out of memory," they decided to do just that. It turned out, though, that Intel's revenues from memory were by this time only 4% of total sales. Intel's lower-level managers had already exited the business. What Intel hadn't done was to shut down the flow of research funding into memory (which was still eating up one-third of all research expenditures); nor had the company announced its exit to the outside world. Because divisional and operating managers—as well as customers and capital markets—have such a powerful impact on the realized strategy of the firm, senior management might consider focusing less on the company's formal strategy and more on the processes by which the company allocates resources. Top managers must know the track record of the people who are making resource allocation proposals; recognize the strategic issues at stake; reach down to operational managers to work across division lines; frame resource questions to reflect the corporate perspective, especially when large sums of money are involved and conditions are highly uncertain; and create a new context that allows top executives to circumvent the regular resource allocation process when necessary.

Article available for purchase at Harvard Business Review

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