What it means to ‘act strategically’

Posted by  Kevin Bishop —March 1, 2012
Filed in Strategy

Being foodies, one show we always look forward to on Australian TV is My Kitchen Rules (MKR). It’s a really interesting show, for a whole number of reasons, including reminding me, yet again, of the importance of language and the way terms are defined. In this case what it means to ‘act strategically’.

In the first part of the competition the teams of two (husband and wives, siblings, work mates or friends) create a restaurant in their own homes. They then cook a three course meal which gets judged by the other contestants as well as the overall judges, respected chefs Manu Feildel and Pete Evans.

As the bottom teams gets eliminated, the scores that each team gives the others ‘home restaurant’ can be the difference between staying in the competition or being sent home. This is where it got interesting around ‘acting strategically’.
Two contestants, Thomas and Carla, had had a shocker when it was their turn to cook.

Problem one was their lack of time management skills. After the entrée of Wheat Beer with Mussel Soup, it was almost three hours before guests received their main. Three hours! And when it did turn up the judges unanimously denounced it as a disappointing dish. It then only got worse with dessert, a lavender cheesecake. Chef Manu said “This is the worst dish I’ve ever had.”

So Thomas and Carla were in trouble and in real danger of going out of the competition. What could they do? Well for them it was all now about ‘acting strategically’ by how they voted. What does that mean? Well the MKR website even defines voting strategically; “purposely giving low scores to other teams in order to secure a place at the MKR table:

Acting strategically, in this context, is therefore about not being honest, not judging fairly or really acting in the ‘spirt of the game’. It is about doing anything to win (or at least not lose), putting the long term aim of staying in the competition, above ethics, morals and values.

Isn’t that interesting.

In business we want our staff to act strategically. We want them to align their day to day activities with the organisations strategy. Strategic thinking and acting strategically are things we value in organisations, more so than ‘tactical actions’. Just look at any capability matrix or framework to see which is more highly valued.

However, when we go home at night to relax in front of the TV we are shown a very different interpretation of ‘acting strategically’. One that is not valued, is criticised by the other contestants and the show’s online forums, and ultimately earned Thomas, the crown of ‘MKR villain’.

So, be careful in your workplace when you ask people to act strategically. How are they viewing that term and what it means? Do they see it as a positive thing, or something a little less savoury?

About  Kevin Bishop

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