Roger Martin is a practical idealist. During his 15-year stint as Dean of the Rotman School of Management, he transformed it from a non-descript institute to one of the most respected global B-schools through sheer professional will and astute strategy. Interestingly though, he did that magic not just with Rotman but also with the National Tennis Federation of Canada of which he served as the chairman for three years and headed the high performance committee for another six years.
During our interaction, he tells us the story of how he and his director friends transformed the tennis scene in Canada in just about a decade. With a miniscule budget — about a decade ago, Canada spent two million dollars a year on high performance players as against a couple of hundred million for the US and Australia and 150 million by the UK — Martin took a non-democratic, completely different path to push for performance and the result: the youngest top 10 male and female player in the world. With a wide range of research work to boast of, Martin is also the author of eight books including Playing to Win, The Design of Business and The Opposable Mind.
You talk about multi-disciplinary thinking across hierarchy. Everybody in the organisation should think through strategy. But how do you ensure that there is no chaos, that there is cohesion?
I don’t think it has to be chaotic at all. Nor do I think strategy is particularly democratic. The people at the top have to set the top-level strategy and everybody else has to set strategy that is consistent with that contextual framework. I work with so many big companies, such as Verizon and P&G and HP. For me, the challenge there is having a definition of strategy, a language of strategy, a practice of strategy that is consistent across the various pieces and levels of the organisation so that you can have dialogue wherever the strategy is at odds.
Right now, in most companies, you have such different definitions of strategy in various sections that it is like the Tower of Babel; you can’t t