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Strategy Integration: the Nerd (Scientist), the Car Guy (Design Engineer), and the Bean Counter (Accountant)

Dr. Harry Hertz Photo and the Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence Logo

Dr. Harry Hertz, Director Emeritus
Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

September 2011

Hopefully, the title of this column has caught your attention. I was going to call our first player just "the scientist," but because I am (or was) one and I called the accountant a "bean counter," I do not want to prejudice anyone by being too kind to my own group.

This column germinated from a book and a commentary. The book is Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business by Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors. The commentary is a Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The scientist part emerged from a combination of my own musings and an article that I came across by Mike Short in an issue of Lexpert magazine.

I'll start with my own bias as a scientist. A scientist learns through hypothesis (calculated risk taking based on scientific fact and speculation), experimentation, observation, conclusions, and probably further experimentation. And science strives for perfection. If scientists in isolation controlled strategy, we might always be trying one more experiment before committing to a strategic plan. The scientist will always be looking for innovation, possibly at the expense of other opportunities for enhancing the customer experience or engagement. Scientists faced with reality would certainly be the group looking for opportunities and blind spots as part of strategic planning.

Now let's look at the car guy. The car guy shares a lot in common with the scientist. But the car guy is more product-driven. The car guy wants a classy, sexy product. Perfection is not a necessity; the car must function well and look good. The car guy is probably more driven by engineering marvels than basic principles (science). The car guy is committed to enhancing the customer experience as he or she sees it, but not necessarily based on what the customer wants. Faced with reality, the car guy will focus on delivering the car type the customer wants, but maybe with more "excitement" than the customer is willing to pay for.

Finally, let's look at the accountant. The accountant has a very different outlook based on his or her training. The accountant is more risk-averse and sees product innovation from the aspect of controlling research expenditures, looking for short-term gains, and investing only in "guaranteed innovations" (which the scientist in me says can never exist). The accountant is always looking to maximize profitability on an ongoing basis. The accountant would say that he or she is the voice of reality when it comes to developing and executing a strategy. The accountant will probably be late to admit that the company is being left behind by the innovations and customer-focused gains of competitors, but quick to blame the scientists and car guys for the outcome. Faced with reality, the accountant will look for ways to reallocate funds, reduce waste, and find some support for next-generation product innovation.

Maybe I exaggerate a little in my characterizations of the three players in this strategy parable, but I think the message is clear. That is, integrating the basic mindsets of the three players leads to strategy integration. All three are needed in developing and executing a successful strategy. Working together and also having a clear sense of the voice of the customer (a responsibility of all customer contact employees at all levels of the organization), the three players can develop effective strategies for the organization and make sure the resources are available and tracked to sustain the organization and allow it to thrive. The three players can be charged with anticipating and developing future products that will offer customers products they can't imagine today but that the scientists and car guys together can. And the accountants on the team will make the resources available and help make the decision when a potential area of research or a potential product should be abandoned.

The concepts of integration in strategy (as well as overall integration through a systems perspective) are at the heart of the Baldrige core values and concepts and the Baldrige Criteria for strategic planning. Below are selected questions from the Baldrige Criteria on strategic planning. I encourage you to take a look at the questions from the perspective of the three players individually and as a team and see how answers might change based on each player's and the consensus perspective. I then encourage you to think of your own environment and ask if all the right players are involved in your strategic planning.

2.1 Strategy Development: How do you develop your strategy?

a. Strategy Development Process

(1) Strategic Planning Process How does your organization conduct its strategic planning? What are the key process steps? Who are the key participants? How does your process identify potential blind spots? How do you determine your core competencies, strategic challenges, and strategic advantages (identified in your Organizational Profile)? What are your short- and longer-term planning time horizons? How are these time horizons set? How does your strategic planning process address these time horizons?

(2) Strategy Considerations How do you ensure that strategic planning addresses the key elements listed below? How do you collect and analyze relevant data and information pertaining to these factors as part of your strategic planning process?

  • your organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats

  • early indications of major shifts in technology, markets, products, customer preferences, competition, the economy, and the regulatory environment

  • long-term organizational sustainability, including needed core competencies, and projections of your future performance and your competitors' or comparable organizations' future performance

  • your ability to execute the strategic plan

Let me conclude this column with a look at a part of the Baldrige Criteria booklet that is frequently overlooked but very germane to this month's topic: the core values and concepts. These concepts form the basis for the criteria and are embedded beliefs and behaviors found in high-performing organizations. They are the foundation for integrating key performance and operational requirements within a results-oriented framework that creates a basis for action and feedback. Think of the following eight core values (out of 11 total): visionary leadership, customer-driven excellence, agility, focus on the future, managing for innovation, management by fact, focus on results and creating value, and systems perspective. Now think of the three key players discussed above. Do you see some of these values particularly tied to one or two of those players? Do you see at least one value (systems perspective) that requires the collaboration of all three players?

I hope I have given you a new perspective for looking at your strategic planning. "See" you next month!


Baldrige Excellence Framework
Baldrige Excellence Builder
Has Social Media Changed Your Organization? (January 2011)
Is Your Organization Strategic When Considering Supplier Relationships? (February 2011)
Leadership Yin-Yang on the Road to Performance Excellence (March 2011)
Your Quest for Performance Excellence (April 2011)
What is Meaningful Use? (May 2011)
The Future of Organizational Quality (June/July 2011)
The Results Are In . . . What Leaders and Employees Believe (August 2011)
Archived Columns

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Created November 1, 2011, Updated November 15, 2019