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Employees in the organization

In strategic thinking, Bill Birnbaum shares lessons that have been learnt over several years of assisting management teams in the development of business strategy. The anecdotes in the book provide for an interesting and enjoyable read. The book offers ideas on how to achieve focus, how to comprehend and respond to customers and markets, how to manage processes and projects and how to lead and motivate people. In the first four chapters, Birnbaum concentrates on the issue of focus and demonstrates how many organizations spend resources on opportunities that are far too many rather than concentrating those resources on one focus.

One of the most valuable things I found in this book was the Opportunity Grid (Birnbaum, 2004). This found in chapter six of the book presents a model that helps in thinking through and visualizing various strategic options available in my industry (insurance and finance). The model has provided food for thought on what should be the focus of my organization. Given the customer oriented nature of insurance, then customer development is the strategic option most likely to be effective in our organization.

Closely related to this is service development since the services are delivered to the customers. With some adaptation

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the power of the opportunity grid can be synergized with power tools from other resources leading to the growth of opportunity sensing capabilities in the insurance industry. The book also has practical advice on strategic procedures and processes. This is a deviation from the norm as most consultants share what they believe someone should do without providing information on how to do it. The book gives the what, the how and the why.

The description of how to develop a mission statement is one such example (Birnbaum, 2004). The chapter on building knowledge in the organization is also very relevant to the insurance industry. This is because for any business to succeed there must be knowledge that can be used to develop strategy. Birnbaum (2004) explains that knowledge is built through data, information and understanding. This movement from one level to another makes it possible to share knowledge which is in turn used to develop strategy.

An understanding of what an organization is about is very important in insurance. This is helpful in presenting a single face of the company to the customers. The book describes a simple technique for developing the mission statement of the organization with many people participating. I found these to be significantly helpful in adding to the knowledge base of the employees in the organization. Further it is also useful in helping the employees to embrace the mission statement of the organization and its relevance to their roles in the organization.

Additionally, Birnbaum differentiates values, philosophies, mission and vision concepts that I have previously found a bit confusing. The information learnt here will be used to assist the employees in my organization see how relevant the vision, mission and philosophy of the organization are to their roles in the organization. My organization is currently going through a period of change where the organization is trying to create a knowledge management culture.

The organization is in the process of being reorganized into three main areas that is property casualty, group benefits, life benefits and reinsurance. This reorganization requires the employees to change from how they have been thinking and working with others. Initially most of the focus has been on a narrow product and market. Now the employee needs to have a general knowledge of the product portfolio for the entire company. The processes that have been described by Birnbaum will be very applicable in this case.

The only major shortcoming in the book was a failure to describe in one section that perhaps stands alone how all the four pieces of the puzzle that is process, focus, people and markets come together in organizational strategy. Apart from this the book is a refreshing read with a down to earth style that is warm and jargon free. The book on a scale of one to ten scores 9 as it conveys Birnbaum’s unconventional wisdom while providing practical examples and explanations of the techniques and concepts of strategic thinking. Reference Birnbaum B, 2004, Strategic Thinking: A four piece puzzle, Douglas Mountain Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-1932632132

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