Timo Santalainen: REJUVENATING ABC: A RETHINK (I)
REJUVENATING ABC: A RETHINK (I)
By Timo Santalainen
SMS is approaching its 40th Anniversary. Current leaders have renewed its strategic intent, which is to“actively shape the understanding and practice of strategic management”. ABC strategy, the deepest original core value, seems to be reborn. ABC is one of the key elements of future strategic directions of SMS. Despite good intentions “the great divide between As and Bs”, as late Clayton Christensen put it, has widened. Membership composition of SMS is unbalanced. This applies even in Strategy Practice IG. In fact, it is next to impossible to find practicing managers among SMS members; B-members are in developmental rather than genuine managerial positions.
Over the years Strategy Practice IG has introduced and tested numerous ideas for finding a better ABC balance. “Practitioners’ Track” was introduced 10 years ago. This idea has more recently been applied in Annual Conferences, too. The problem is that there are no practitioners in audience, i.e. the supply side is fine, but demand side is lacking. The same applies to “Mentoring Initiative” introduced by IG’s Engagement Officer: how to get B-mentorees? Another example is the attempt of adjusting review criteria more ABC-friendly. Finding ABC-minded insightful pool of reviewers is a tricky task, but attracting practitioners to write proposals is far more difficult.
Fortunately, there are also ideas that stick. ABC-panels and plenaries bring genuine practitioners to conferences. Strategy Practice IG has good experiences in working with local organizers who encourage businesspeople to contribute for instance in Saturday-sessions. Special Conferences seem to have much better ABC-balance than Annual Conferences. Social media opens multiple new avenues for balancing acts. Strategy Practice IG’s renewed Newsletter also exemplifies a good vehicle.
So, how to find more executing power behind ABC-initiatives? Tinkering is not enough. SMS’s renewed strategic intent (vision) calls for a rethink. In addition to thinking what are good strategy practice research topics to me (us), we should ask what relevant insights can I (we) offer to practitioners. True impact is gained when practitioners implement our ideas in their strategic thinking and action.
There is an empty hole of time between conferences. How to fill this? Lessons from a vibrant national society might offer some boosters. So, let’s have a closer look at what is happening on national level.
Strategic Management Society-Finland (SSJS) has been a major energizer and prominent ABC
networking platform in the country. SSJS had its 30th Anniversary in 2019. SSJS’s membership count has been 400 – 500. Membership composition is quite balanced: 26% A-members, 33% B-members, 35% C-members and 6% other (students, retired persons). Annual activities of SSJS are framed by an annual theme (“Bright Strategic Thinking Amidst Challenges of Sustainability and Digital Disruption” is the latest one). An annual seminar, “Strategytwist”, is a highlight of a year. It is a major ABC-networking occasion featuring an award “Most Powerful Strategic Action of the Year”, given to an organization. “Annual Strategy Awards” are granted to post-graduate and graduate researchers. For the time being, six Honorary Members have been invited as well.
REJUVENATING ABC: A RETHINK (II)
Ongoing activities include “Monthly Strategy Get-Together”, which is an after-work visit to a business, public or parastatal organization. Most of the visits have been sold out. “Round Table Teams” hosted by activist SSJS-members as well as “Strategy Incubators” are more intimate idea x-fertilizing events offering ABC-networking possibilities. “Lottery Luncheon” is a monthly event where senior ABC-members host tables, share their strategy insights and spar with more junior people allotted to their tables. “Strategy Sparring” is a similar vehicle for junior members to pose questions or strategy themes to more senior SSJS-members with whom they want to spar with, face to face or via email.
Monthly Newsletters and occasional webcasts take care business as usual. Newsletters are
complemented by “Strategy Foresights” that are collections of insightful articles, books or presentations that active SSJS-members take responsibility of publishing. Strategy books written by members are promoted, even by organizing mini-seminars on the theme of the book. In some case these books have given ideas for annual themes.
SSJS has organized study tours to SMS Annual Conferences, most often as a joint effort with another professional network like HRM Association. The usual concept during the study tour has been that there is one day seminar with local company (e.g. Intel) or university (e.g. Stanford, IESE) before SMS Conference and another day after for summarizing lessons learned. To maximize value capture joint workshops 1-2 months after SMS conferences have also been organized. Some C-members have invited their consulting clients to SMS Conferences. Conferences offer great opportunities for customized strategy sparring, too. For SMS this opens opportunity to attract new B-members.
In sum, how to rejuvenate ABC? There is no dearth of ideas, but how to make things happen? Why not to nominate “Country ABC Ambassadors”? Active SMS-members (seniors and juniors) would be one possibility. Country ABC Ambassadors should use their personal contact networks for actively finding prominent practitioners (business, politics, NGOs, arts, sports etc), and encourage them to become SMS members, and even encourage their (ABC) contributions in congresses. Bs and Cs can offer excellent cases that can be framed by A-concepts.
Strategy Practice IG could organize an “Adopt-A-Member” Competition by asking existing IG members to find 2-5 Bs and Cs in their contact network, and involve them (to become members, to attend conferences, to contribute). Best recruiters should be awarded. This idea works only if Annual Conferences are attractive enough to Bs and Cs.
Strategy Practice IG has done a lot but there still is quite a job to be done.
SMS Founding Member
Fmr. Chair of Strategy Practice IG