Many companies might argue that the devil is in the detail but, in concentrating on the detail, are they being sidetracked away from their visionary purpose and losing the innovative edge of their business? Which takes precedence in a successful business - process or vision?
Perhaps neither and both. In a just-published survey on business innovation, Coopers & Lybrand Management Consulting (C&L) found that there is a big gap between the high-performing companies or 'innovators' and those that are low-performing in terms of shareholder return. In particular, says Trevor Davis, C&L's director of innovation, the low performers tend to operate on strictly hierachical structures, in which decision-making and creative thinking are largely reserved for the upper echelons and everyone else sticks by 'the rules' in a mechanical way. By contrast, he claims, the high performers usually devolve the power base across more lateral networks, through which employees are encouraged to express and develop their ideas to a successful practical conclusion. Not so much a question of strictly defined roles therefore - the processmongers versus the innovative whizzkids - as a corporate melting pot in which creative productivity is seen as a basic competence of every employee, who also carries out his or her day-to-day tasks.
A basic competence, perhaps, but individuals possess it to a greater or lesser degree and somebody has to run the company. So which is it to be - a visionary CEO or the nuts-and-bolts man? To be successful, Graham Nixon, director of an IT division at KPMG Management Consulting, believes that a company needs its management to operate on two levels: the day-to-day and the strategy, since it is 'the day-to-day which then generates the profit to fund the achievement of the strategy'. Yet, he admits, 'it is often difficult to strike a balance between the two extremes in one individual.
Perhaps the most successful teams are where there is a visionary chief executive and an effective operations director or chief operating officer, who is delivering today's business. Somebody has to be striker and someone has to stay at home in goal.' Process and vision working hand-in-hand and interdependent - but separate.
Certainly, that seems to be the experience of Larry Granger, manager of process re-engineering for Ford Motor Company in the UK. A huge company like Ford, with its numerous sites worldwide and myriad of suppliers, is 'a complex business environment. Without thinking about process at a strategic level, it just can't make improvements to the business,' he says. Managers need to take a constant three-tiered approach, he argues, looking at thousands of problems of the short-term, fix-it-now type, fewer medium-term items and just a handful of strategic, long-term projects over a period of, say, three to five years.
As Nixon affirms: 'There is no point in having a grand strategy if you then go bust trying to achieve it. Equally, if you only focus on the day-to-day, you never go anywhere but into a steady decline.' It requires a two-pronged approach.