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Saving Strategy – How to Make “Doing Strategy” Meaningful in an Age of Disruption

Did you realize that the approach to strategy that most companies (and consultants) use today was formulated in the last century?

That’s right. Back in the days when people had to talk face to face and TV was the new kid on the block. A time when if someone called you while you were out at the store they left you a message and had to wait until you got to a land line to call them back. And an era where the typical computer was big enough to fill a room at your university.

Back in those days, life and business moved at a much slower and predictable pace – so a slow moving, mechanistic and linear approach to strategy was adopted. And it seemed to do the trick for a really long while.

How different does our world look today? People around the globe are connected to each other (socially and for business) 24/7, digital technology is a part of everyone’s lives, big data isn’t a new concept anymore and AI is lurking on our horizon, and no industry is immune to disruption. Things have changed so much in just a blink of an eye and there’s every indication that things will only accelerate.

So why would we think that the old way of doing strategy would still apply in this new world? It just doesn’t make sense but, surprisingly, the old-school approach to strategy is still taught in many universities and business schools today.

It’s kind of crazy but this is where we find ourselves at this moment in time.

Many business leaders have felt the sting of applying this dated approach to strategy to their company and business reality. They’ve invested time, effort, resources, and money on a long, drawn out planning process only to realize that the strategy that came out the other end was DOA. It took so damn long to craft the strategy that a critical change in the business environment required a strategy do-over right out of the gate.

The response? After an experience like this, most business leaders would rather “wing it” when it comes to strategy than waste time trekking down the tired strategy path again. Who could blame them? More importantly – where’s the alternative?

Some consultants and darling tech companies have adopted approaches to planning and business management that work on a shorter horizon. The thinking is that since things will change anyway, why even bother planning for, let alone think about, the long term? With these approaches, “strategy” equals a collection of vague and generic directions, and quarterly goals and to do lists that hopefully get your business to the next level.

Hey – if it works for <insert the name of the latest tech star here>, why not for us?

The problem is that these new approaches to “doing strategy” appear to have been created with the belief that the best (only?) way to solve the problems with old school strategy is to focus on speed, and the short-term, while sacrificing the fundamentals required for sustained business success.

And while these new approaches may produce short-terms gains, it often (and sadly) doesn’t take long before something blindsides these companies and their business leaders find themselves wondering what exactly happened and how they got here.

Unfortunately, in these situations, many folks conclude that there was no way to have seen the big change coming. However, the fact is that, with a better strategy process in place – one that’s designed for a time of disruption – they could have been positioned to surf, or even lead, the change themselves.

So – what needs to change when it comes to “doing strategy” in this age of disruption? How can we save strategy and re-make it so that it becomes a powerful tool for sustained business results and success in a time of significant, and often unexpected, change? Here’s how:

First of all, we need to get rid of the activities in the old strategy process that prevent businesses from being fast and adaptable. Things like customer/stakeholder engagement events, the annual planning retreat, and extended budgeting and operating plan synching cycles.

Essentially, we need to move away from treating strategy as an event to making “doing strategy” an ongoing process for our organizations.

Next, strategy needs to move beyond the old-school fixation on life and conditions within our organization to include much greater emphasis on (1) keeping our finger on the pulse of our external environment (including our customers) and then (2) ) incorporating this information quickly and intelligently into our strategy calculations.

However, most importantly, a new approach to strategy needs to focus on what was often hidden in the traditional strategy process: the key strategic choices and business model the company is betting on to deliver success.

In fact, to do a better job in an age of disruption, “doing strategy” needs be a no nonsense process that’s focused on capturing, implementing, testing, validating, and improving (or innovating) a company’s strategic choices and its business model.

That’s it.

Here’s a one pager that gives you a closer look at the essentials of this new approach to doing strategy.

Express Strategy in 1 page

This new process (let’s call it Express Strategy) is lightning fast! The initial turn through it can be done in weeks rather than months and then your business can cycle through the steps quarterly, more frequently, or whenever the need for a change is detected. The key to success is that your organization moves through the sequence continually, supported by a steady stream of data, knowledge, analysis, and insights that combine to help you and your team change exactly what needs to change when/if it needs to change.

The outcome is this a more dynamic approach to doing strategy that gives your business greater odds of sustainable success in a rapidly changing and disruptive business environment.

 

Are you interested in learning more and/or giving Express Strategy a try? I’ll spend time in my next blog posts going over each step in this new strategy process and giving you tips you can use to adopt the express approach to “doing strategy” in our organization.

1 Comment

  1. Gavin Lawrie
    Dec 19, 2017

    Hi Sandy.

    Interesting post.

    As an active researcher into these topics, I’d be very interested to hear the basis / evidence for the claim made ‘After an experience like this, most business leaders would rather “wing it” when it comes to strategy’?

    I would also value your clarification of what you use to separate ‘old’ and ‘new’ schools in the statement “It just doesn’t make sense […that…] old-school approach to strategy is still taught in many universities and business schools today.”

    You might also want to read this article from “the last century”:

    From 1994 – Henry Mintzberg’s article ‘That’s not “turbulence”, Chicken Little, it’s really opportunity’ (Strategy & Leadership; Nov/Dec 1994; 22, 6) which does a great job of putting the “we’ve never had so much change” meme into perspective.

    When you get there your general point about ‘dynamic strategy’ is well made – we’re supporters of the concept – our ACME process is designed specifically to encourage organisations to adopt this approach to planning and implementation.

    Much about our approach on 2GC’s web site – if you visit you’ll see that your “Express Strategy” has much in common with methods we outline there – for example here: https://2gc.eu/resources/blog/fire-and-forget…-doesnt-work-for-strategy-implementation

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