Management Articles


Getting the Most: Strategic Organization Improvement

By: Mark Henderson

Mark Henderson is Senior Vice President of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Ontario, Canada. His web site is

If you avoid confusing means and ends, you will steer clear of the rocky improvement roads you are now bouncing along.

After surviving more than a decade of management theories and fads, many managers are change and improvement weary. For the past 20 years, the consulting and publishing industries encouraged the search for management's holy grail: a silver-bullet solution. But this program and process du jour craze left a trail of disappointment and lackluster results in its wake. This is not news. Correcting this problem, however, remains a significant challenge.

Perhaps seduced by the engaging nature of the challenge, or the sophisticated tools and programs, many managers confuse the means and ends of their change and improvement efforts. The ultimate goal was too vague or altogether obscured by the fanfare associated with the improvement process or tool.

Improvement efforts must be designed to support the achievement of business objectives or goals. Whether those overriding objectives relate to revenue growth, new product development, cost reduction, customer loyalty, retention, brand equity, patent approval or protection, value erosion, market share, or improved margins, they are the pre-eminent aim for the business. None of these objectives or goals relates to improvement processes, tools, or theories. These are not the ends to be sought, but rather the means to those ends.

When business objectives, goals, priorities, or imperatives are clear, implementation of the supporting improvement technologies stands a much better chance of success, thereby accelerating the move to these critical end results. Often, this distinction is missed and the improvement becomes an end in and of itself. When that happens, sub-par results soon follow. Unfortunately, the improvement tools themselves are then called into question, rather than the strategic thinking and planning process which created the situation in the first place.

A Helpful Acronym

To avoid the means and ends dilemma, remember this helpful acronym, MOST: mission, objectives, strategy, and tactics. It's a simple, yet effective way to plan for improvement.

Mission. Begin by clarifying your mission or purpose (focus and context).

Objectives. Next, select a reasonable number of 'vital few' business objectives consistent with your focus and context, competitive position, financial and operational performance, parent company priorities, etc. Your annual planning exercises will pay off here.

Strategies. Once you are clear on your mission and objectives, craft a series of highly integrated and aligned improvement strategies.

Tactics. Add aligned supporting tactics (actions, projects, programs) that will propel your organization along a trajectory to reach your business objectives as rapidly as possible.

By following this formula, you will not confuse the means and ends of organization improvement. Given the slim margin of error most organizations face today, this advice may prove decisive and tip the scales in your favor.

© Copyright 2000 The CLEMMER Group

Other Articles by Mark Henderson

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