An Alternative Approach to Strategy – What We Do at TMS Americas

Tom GibbonsStrategy1 Comment

Over the past number of months our e-newsletters have offered differing perspectives regarding how people typically think and act in their organizational lives.  With this has come a critique of mainstream organizational thinking, thinking that can be highly problematic, even damaging to organizations and the people that work in them.  In many ways these e-newsletters have been intellectual exercises, encouraging us all to think differently about organizations.

Well, thinking is one thing, and doing is another.  With this e-newsletter we want to share a little of what we do in our organization, TMS Americas, specifically in the area of strategy.  How we put some of the thinking discussed in earlier e-newsletters into action.  Below are the first two paragraphs from our 2008 strategic planning document….

Our view of organizational strategy is that it is the articulation of intentions through interaction.  Strategic activity then, is the creation of interactions where those intentions have a good chance of being realized.  We also assume that clarity of intentions can only occur in any significant detail through the very interactions in which they are to be realized.  This means that for us, strategy, at a detailed level emerges through our interactions and is not predictable in any value added way.  At a broad level it means we do our best to articulate our intentions in a way that attracts our attention to, and informs our thinking in each interaction we have.  Our ‘good enough’ stated intentions then become the filters through which we shape and understand our interactions and enable us to see the possibilities of realizing those intentions on a continual basis.  They also act to constrain us by filtering our thinking and attracting our attention in the direction of those intentions.

As we move through the year it will be important to keep these intentions as the foundation of each and every one of our interactions.  It will also be important to focus specifically on these intentions through our own team dialogue and continue to clarify, understand, adjust, discard and re-create them as we see fit and as our experiences of the year emerge.

So if you have not yet dozed off let’s add a little bit more.  We have 3 primary intentions:

  • Building relationships to create opportunities
  • Differentiation in the market
  • We need ALL of each of us

As noted above these primary intentions act as filters for each and every one of our interactions over the course of the year.  This means that any interaction, whether carefully planned or completely unexpected is subject to interpretation by one or more of these intentions.  We also believe that these intentions will make us successful and we have, and are discovering that we have, numerous definitions of what success looks like for us.

We also have 4 core intentions that focus more on shorter term market activities or internal needs.

These 7 intentions inform pretty much everything we do and we talk about them constantly regarding the interactions we have with each other, our clients, our global partners and even with our families when we’re talking about our business.

The key thing with our strategy is that it is fiercely process focused.  And the process is an interactive one.  Our strategy will emerge through those interactions with our intentions focusing those interactions; not predicting their outcomes.  When you look at mainstream thinking about strategy it is typically quite different.  It is fiercely results focused.  And the results are based on assumptions of predictability.  And although this thinking creates how most people tend to go about strategy, it is not what happens in organizations.  No matter how results focused and no matter how hard you try to predict, strategies always play out through interactive processes.  At TMS Americas we think its just way easier to align the way we do strategy with how it really happens.

So we’ve focused a bit on what we do have as part of our strategy.  It might be good to also focus on some of the things we don’t have in our strategic intentions document.

We don’t have hard financial targets, we don’t have values statements, we don’t have action plans.  Some people reading this would likely say we’re a disaster just waiting to happen.  They would say this because they would make a correlation to these missing pieces to mean we don’t care about money or targets or goals, we have no moral compass, and we probably don’t have very focused activities if we do anything at all!  Yet if you’ve worked with us at any level of depth, you know that we care about goals and targets (some of those definitely financial), we do have strong values, and we have action plans for almost every day.  We just don’t think they are very effective to put into a strategic document since all of those things emerge each day in our processes of interacting with others to do our business.  We think putting that level of detail into a strategic document is not only ineffective, it restricts thinking unnecessarily, and it sets people up for failure.

Back in 2005 we wrote an e-book called Strategic Identity – The Emergence of Strategy Through Interaction.  It’s been about 2 ½ years since we wrote that and in reading back through it; it outlines many of the concepts and thinking behind a process focused, interactive approach to strategy.  Our thinking has changed a bit since then, but most importantly perhaps, is that it has taken us 2 ½ years to actually write what we think is a valuable strategic plan based on that thinking.  That’s not because we are just slow or didn’t have it in our action plans.  It’s taken that long to let the thinking come forward in our experience, to push that very powerful mainstream thinking about strategy aside to make room for these new perspectives.  For 2 years we just didn’t write a strategic plan, what we were used to doing wasn’t effective and our efforts to do something different weren’t much better.  As noted above, thinking is one thing, doing is another.

At the beginning of this year we thought we really needed a strategic plan, it was an important document to run our business effectively.  We let our experiences over the past number of years come forward in really trying to work with complexity and complex responsive processes and we sat down and wrote our document.  It took about a day.  A long time to get to that day.  But it seems our document is doing what we hoped.  It informs ALL of us how we do our work each day and provides a framework for us to interact within our days.  What more could you really want from a strategic document.

If you would like a copy of our 2005 e-book, just connect back to  and mention that you read about it in this e-newsetter and we will email you a complimentary copy; since it might just help to differentiate us a little bit in the market and it might be a way to build a relationship to create opportunities.

One Comment on “An Alternative Approach to Strategy – What We Do at TMS Americas”

  1. Thanks for the comment Stephen. It has been good to find someone who has worked intensely with the Stacey material posting stuff on the web.

    Our 4 other intentions have to do with things like revenue generation, cost containment and infrastructure which we consider more ‘operational’ and while specific action plans in these areas are not laid out there are areas of focus that we act on.
    As for time bound action plans we don’t have them and do not have a performance management system. We find that highly self managed people with all the information do not need systems to manage their performance.

    Certainly there are numerous times when these intnetions will be/are in conflict and we expect this. We deal with this in two ways. One, we support whatever decision a person makes independently. We may not agree with it and we may not make the same decision in the future but we will support it. In order to do this we share all information. All company information is shared with everyone.

    Second we discuss situations as necessary (which is quite often) and pass the situation through the filters of our various intentions and try and figure out which intention might be most important in this specific context and decide from that intention. We call this context based decision making and we apply it across the board. Thus we have no policies.

    We do not shy away however from the necessary and real power realities of any organization. If we cannot agree on a decision (and this is very rare) we all know the decision will default to the accountability of myself and my colleague who own the business.

    While what we do is assisted by the fact we are small (only 5 of us) we have all worked in large organizations. I think any size organization could be run in a similar fashion since no matter how large it is, any real activity is happening in local environments.

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