Thinking Small

Thinking Small

Murphy's struggles, though many, aren't unique. Across industries, technology budgets continue to be squeezed, and post-Sept. 11 uncertainties, market turbulence and wrenching staff cuts in some industries continue. "I think at some level, everybody is going through this period of uncertainty," Murphy says. Adds John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and the author of several books about change management: "Without a good vision and a clever, clear strategy in times of rapid, sudden change, managers can rarely inspire the kind of action needed to go forward."

So how do you manage in a storm when the old, reliable compass isn't working? "You get small," says Mercer Management Consulting Inc. travel industry expert Vasco Fernandes. "You begin breaking longer-term strategy into smaller stages so as to be more focused on the immediate."

Murphy calls it microstrategy. "Within the context of preserving long-term goals, there are a whole bunch of microstrategies you can use to get there, and these stepping-stone strategies need to be very nimble and adaptable," he says. With microstrategy, "you chunk your planning into smaller pieces than before, so it's more manageable and more affordable—in whatever context you're going to put affordable—so that it's easier to adjust things along the way, if necessary," Murphy says. "But at the same time, you always understand where you need to be."

Microstrategy isn't new—it originated during the downsizing craze of the 1980s—but it's gotten renewed attention in the wake of Sept. 11 at a number of companies, especially those tied to travel, such as airlines and hotels. Kotter says microstrategy can help crisis-hit companies "dodge left or right in a way that is sensible for the long term. When a meteor hits, don't panic. Find the opportunity in change. If the long-term vision is right, the trick is not to get swamped by sudden jolts, but to always keep your goal on the horizon."

After getting the news about Project Leapfrog, Murphy had what he called "a long, bad weekend"—then came back the following Monday morning to begin instituting the first phase of a microstrategy—a three-pronged rapid-change plan he devised to save his department, his own job and any prayer of bringing back Leapfrog. The first phase, called Survive and Thrive, was aimed at getting RC's IT department through painful layoffs with as much haste and ease as possible, then focusing remaining staff on some new goals aimed, ultimately, at restoring the project, possibly someday even rehiring those who'd been cut from the roster. It was a two-week process of involving HR, pulling performance ratings, talking to people about which people to keep and which to let go. "You can't do this lightly," he says. "There are certain intellectual capsules you don't want to let go because you know how damn hard it's going to be to get back when you're up and running again."

This article was originally published on 01-01-2002
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