Role of strategists' way of thinking


Today's business is characterised by stiff competition, rapid technological advancement and changing requirements of customers and employers. Meaning if organisations want to continue surviving, they must respond to change fast or fall off the bandwagon. In fact, many have suggested that the only competitive advantage for organisations is their ability to learn faster than their competitors (Garratt, 1987; De Geus, 1988). Strategic entrepreneurship has not made this easy and small and large firms face impediments while pursing this. This has brought up the question "leadership in organisations?"

This paper aims to highlight the strategic way of thinking of the Chief Executive of organisations and how it affects the management of organisational change. Collis (1992) says an organisation that fails to make strategic change fails to survive.

The next section of this paper, the literature review will review existing theories of change management and interpret the role the strategist plays in the strategic change process. Kurt Lewins Force field theory of change will be used to further explain this and an organisational change case study (The London Ambulance Service) will be used to demonstrate how the strategist way of thinking can either hinder or influence change. The Lewins model of change theory will be used to analyse the case study, and conclusions will be drawn from the discussions based on the findings.

Literature Review

"Businesses today face a stark reality; anticipate, respond and react to the growing demands of the market place or perish" (Nah, lau & Khung, 2001). As a result of this, the Strategist has to think of the strategic intent of the organisation with focus on tomorrow's opportunities.

Hamel, 2004 defined Strategic Intent as "an ambitious and compelling dream that provides the emotional and intellectual energy for the journey to the future". Strategic intent should have a sense of direction, discovery and destiny meaning it should have a view of the future, give employees the promise of exploring new territories and a goal perceived as inherently worthwhile.

The purpose of strategic intent, its logic, uniqueness and discovery are vitally important to the organisations employees during organisational change. Because they have to understand, believe and live by it. Strategy is a stretch process and its expression helps the employees and organisation to share the common goal of survival against all odds.

Strategic change is often explained as a necessary reaction to external, environmental forces such as decreased demand, increased competition and critical financiers (Grinyer et al, 1988) or sometimes as being due to other internal organisational forces such as power structure, control system and competence structure (Merlin, 1989). Strategic change is influenced by dominating opinions shared by companies and actors in a specific industry (Spender, 1989). Strategic change is often claimed to be a long process but we have seen from many leaders that it can be achieved in a short time for example Hitler was able to strategically re-orientate his country in only six years and went to war with the world.

Leadership thought interacts with organisational culture; it represents collective values and its worldview from a corporate point. Theories of leadership is a concept that is now treaded carefully, Psychologists' in the 1950s and 1960s devoted great energy in trying to identify the personality traits of the successful leader (Fiedler, 1967). This work saw leadership in terms of authority and followers. Others concentrated on defined categories such as consideration and initiating behaviour, task - oriented and employee - oriented leader behaviour and sought to locate leaders on the autocracy-democracy scale.

Intentional Change Theory (ICT)

Boyatziz (2006) identified 5 steps of Intentional Change Theory as Ideal self, real self, learning agenda, Experimenting with new behaviour and developing and maintaining close personal relationship. He explains that the leader of an organisation should be the Chief change agent; the change should begin with him. He went further to clarify that part of the essentials of good leadership are to recognise, manage, direct and take responsibility of one's own learning and changing process thereby getting results through the better understanding of emotions. After which Change can then be managed effectively and successfully both in individuals and in the organisation.

The 5 steps of ICT can be explained thus, the ideal self - the ideal image of the organisation, the real self - the actual state of the organisation, the learning agenda - the gap between the ideal and real self, experimenting with new behaviour -the change and developing and maintaining close relationship - building and maintaining the change. Figure 1 shows the relationship between the steps.

Kurt Lewin's Model of Change

"You can't understand an organisation till you try to change it" says Kurt Lewin (Schein, 1996). Prompted by this, in the 1950s, Kurt Lewin proposed models for the understanding of organisational change. These models are one of the most referenced theories of change and still holds true till date. Lewin models for change includes the group theory, action research, the field theory and the three stage change process (unfreezing, changing and refreezing). The three stage process will be used for this paper.


This is the first step of change process and it involves the preparation for change. It is usually the hardest and the most stressful part of change. It is about telling the employees there is a need for change and getting them ready for it. A lot of motivation needs to be done because most times it unbalances employees and brings about resistance. Strategies should be devised to help combat resistance and make an enabling environment for change.


This stage involves creating the desire for change and allowing the change to commerce. This stage is time consuming and there is need for easy and open communication between top management and employees. Top management have to explain and re-explain the need for change and its benefits. They need to answer employees question and if possible give success stories of where the implementation of the change has being successful. Progress reports from all staff should be encouraged, to help gain individual involvement and commitment.


This is the post implementation, when change has taken place and people are stabilising and embracing it. Measures have to be taking so employees do not fall back to their "old ways". Change has to be sustained. Training and retraining of staff is needed, support and continued assistance from top management given and incentives outlined. Meetings and communication through bulletins to promote the new culture have to continue. Finally, the change success has to be celebrated to give staff a sense of pride.

Change is a driving force and resistance to change a restricting force. The change agent is the settling factor in this battle. So the duty of the change agent is to manage and control these opposing force fields at every particular point making the driving force always greater than the restrictive force. (Schein 1996)

Case study Analysis

Two literatures on the London Ambulance Service Computer Aided Despatch system and the Lewin's 3 stage change process will be used to highlight the bad and good practices and the role of the strategist way of thinking in strategic change process.


Failure case (Beynon-Davies, 1999)

This is one of the most quoted examples of information systems failure. Many literature exist of The London Ambulance service Information systems failure, many on the concept of IS failure, Human error and risk safety critical systems. Beynon - Davies uses four interacting elements - Project organisations, Supporters, Information System and the Environment and their relationship to analyse the reason for the IS failure.

Why the need for change?

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) is the largest ambulance service in the world. It was founded in 1930 and since then has undergone series of change management and innovation. It has also had a bad history with change management and implementation. LAS are responsible for the coverage of seven million people and comprises of 70 ambulance stations, about 700 vehicles and over 3000 staff. On average, they respond to around 2500 calls per day - about 1500 being 999 calls.

The need for a change to a more complex Information System was due to the need for a better service provision with less response time for emergency cases since the demand for emergency services had increased steadily over the years and had an annual growth rate of about 15% (Fitzgerald. G, 2005)

The LASCAD project

The LASCAD project was supposed to change the LAS and their services. It was meant to usher them into a new culture of Information Technology use. It was supposed to help LAS overcome the time consuming and error - prone activities usually encountered in the manual CAD systems like identification of the precise location of an incident, maintaining up to date vehicle status information and reduction of paper work all with the aim of improving the service to patients. It is important to note that LAS receives 10 times as many emergency calls as any other ambulance service in UK. Hence it was a huge IS project that really needed to take off, a strategic initiative by the Government.

The hierarchical structure of the London Ambulance Service organisational which was very tense, lack of communication between top management and employees, the project organisation, the supporters (Staff), the environment and the lack of a strong leader are among the forces that caused a failure of this project in 1992.

Implementation of the 1992 LASCAD project

A project team was set up which included some top management staff though there was no clear shared mission or vision and the change agent; the CE was not motivational about the success of the project though he wanted it to work. The project was given to the lowest bidder to implement chiefly because a lot of tax payers money had already being spent on previous projects. The bidder had no previous experience on developing such a project and chose the wrong hardware and software for project implementation.

The timeline was too short for a project of such complex scale - one year. There was lack of communication between top management and employees. No felt need for the project by the LAS staff and the ambulance, allocation and call taking crew who were going to feel the change most were not involved in the decision making of the information system project. Opinions of IT experts were not taking by the management and the Project management team had no experience on IT projects. The staff had inadequate training; most of which was at the beginning of implementation.


The 1992 LASCAD project was a disaster from the beginning, the key project implementers were all wrong, the CE who was meant to be the chief Change agent did nothing to prepare his staff for the change that was going to occur. The people whom the change was going to affect resisted the change and saw the CE and his management as trying to steal their jobs. The nation saw the LASCAD project as a waste of tax payers' money and cause of death to loved ones. The time frame given for the completion and implementation of the project did not help it. The inexperienced IT contractors used Visual Basic as the platform which is not reliable for a project of such high complexity. The Inadequate training of staff / users to prepare them for the take off also contributed to the failure of this project.

The kickoff night was catastrophic, 999 calls swamped the operators, Long queues developed and tracking of free vehicles was difficult. The staffs on duty were unable to operate the system and most times pressed the wrong buttons. After a period, when the system could no longer cope, they reverted to a semi manual system where calls were taken through the system but dispatching done manually. This reduced the tension and improved the situation.

The media crucified the management and termed it "the crash of the London Ambulance system". The CEO and his assistant resigned after this project implementation due to the bad publicity that followed the project.

We can see the CE did not do his homework before implementation of the project, he followed the band wagon and agreed to kick-off a project of such complexity and importance which involved human lives, in such a short time, with the wrong tools, people, IS and environment.

The turnaround of the London Ambulance Service Computer - Aided Despatch System (Fitzgerald and Russo, 2005)

After the failed LASCAD project of 1992, a new project was initiated and a new CE appointed. This did not solve the problems with the semi - manual system, it crashed and LAS had to go back to the previous manual system used for taking calls and vehicle dispatch.

The previous management was largely blamed for the underestimation of the difficulties' in implementing a change culture in such a tense and adverse working environment. Despite this the, recommendations were made to keep seeking for an IS solution for LAS.

The new CE of LAS, Martin Gorham says "The simple fact was that the current structure was a complete obstacle to making progress. We didn't have the level of management resources that were needed. I think that is one of the reasons why my predecessor wasn't able to deliver what he set out to do. He never had the high level management needed to turn around a big high profile, complex organisation, which had drifted 10 -15 years behind the time"(Fitzgerald & Russo, 2005).


The CE; Gorham firstly implemented a four divisional structure to assist him with the implementation of the project. He created a planning and IT role, a role that has never existed in LAS.

They were under massive pressure to introduce a new IS system but they said it would only result to another failed project, if it was to be done than it would be done correctly and right.

The Lewins Change model will be used to highlight the strategy used by the CEO


New top management staffs were employed who were professionals in their fields and the hierarchical structure torn down to a four divisional structure. Top management was fully and wholly behind this team. A strategy for implementation was drawn with clear vision and mission identified. The New CE improved the working conditions of the employees and work on mending fences and building bridges with employees was embarked on. This made the staffs feel needed and important. The manual system was not discarded it was still in use while a new system was being designed. The employees for the first time had an open communication channel with the top management, this eased the tension between the employees and top management thereby bring a relaxed work environment. He introduced new projects to help communicate the need for change from the manual to automated system. He carried all staff along. He took his time mapping out the way forward, building and getting the staff to understand the "real self" and "ideal self" of the organisation.


The CE used a participative approach to get everyone involved in the project implementation. Meetings were organised where staff were allowed to ask questions and make suggestions. The staffs that were to use the software were asked the best way they wanted the system to work. An in - house software was developed that modelled the manual system and the staff were happy, felt the need for the new IS and its benefits were clearly defined. The staff felt the system was theirs since they helped develop it. The IT Head, Tighe says "the only thing they would find acceptable is the thing that they invent" (Fitzgerald & Russo, 2005). New hardware was purchased and training of staff was embarked on stage by stage. Suggestions and feedbacks were encouraged and teams setup to foster active participation. The implementation of the project was done in stages to enable staff get used to the idea, air its problems and give recommendations. It was noticed that the whole organisation was changing and work culture pleasant. PRINCE project management was introduced and used throughout the project implementation and the IS was writing with UNIX, a strong operating system that was good for the implementation of such complex projects. Though the change phase was slow it was necessary to get everyone involved to move together and positive results were recorded. The staff had a new confidence and trust in the system that has never existed before and felt comfortable.


Training and retraining of staff continued. Enhancements were made where necessary and project implementation continued. The new system was a model of the manual system at first and gently progressed so it was easy for the staff to use it. The staff commitment to the project was strong and they didn't want it to fail so they took ownership. Table 1 highlights the measures taken by the 1992 and 1996 CEs during the implementation of the LASCAD.

Reflection and Conclusion

This paper highlights the role of the strategist way of thinking in strategic change processes with the use of the London Ambulance Service Computer- Aided Despatch project case studies. The most important differences were the approach used to drive change related to the IS, the project organisation, the environment and the supporters (Staff).

The CE of the 1992 failed system because of pressure for a better and effective computer system went straight into the implementation of technological need and met heavy resistance from staff which eventually led to his resignation. The success case shows the qualities of a good strategist and how organisation change is achieved. The CE of the 1996 system felt the tension of his environment and knew no change could occur if the people were not in support and felt the need. He sought ways to make the environment and people relaxed, confident and motivated. It was only when he had achieved this that he went to the proper implementation of the IS change.

"Moving directly to bold leadership actions can be costly, the prior need is to build a climate for leading change while at the same time rising energy levels and setting out the new directions to be followed before precise action is taking" (Whipp R et al, 1993).

"When the changes are examined, it becomes apparent that leadership and the understanding of needs of staff as opposed to forcing through of change without consensus, were important" (Fitzgerald & Russo, 2005).

As Oliver Wendell Holmes says "The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in which direction we are moving".

As time passes, Strategic way of thinking of the Manager may be modified by the different situations he is confronted with and his mindset, which can either be a stabilizing factor or can initiate strategic change.


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