Strategy in the World of Exponential Change

Just a few years ago, business strategy was founded on the belief that if you "Build it, they will come." For decades, considerable effort was expended to have the management team annually prepare a brilliant strategy, share it with the "team," hang the perfectly scripted mission statement in the lobby and expect everyone in the organization to be compelled to execute the strategy.

In today’s world, that process takes too long, doesn’t include the "right stuff" and in most cases, will not achieve the desired results. Today, organizations need more than a strategy. They must build a culture that will embrace a rapidly changing world.

Strategy and strategic planning, as we know it, is dead!

And why would that be? Strategic planning has been around since the early 1900’s. We know S.W.O.T is the foundation. Predicting the future over the next 3 to 5 years leads us to the action steps to be implemented to attain the strategic goals. But have you noticed that the world is getting smaller? Change, very disruptive change, is occurring faster. We may be the first generation in history that has to cope with an accelerated rate of change.

Today’s reality is that the rate of change business leaders are living in, and trying to predict, is changing faster than ever. The technology of the internet has become the catalyst for change in almost everything we do. The internet has, in many ways, made information a commodity; creating and sharing new ideas instantly.

Today, the rate of change is exponential and that is going to continue. In fact, there may no longer be time to "predict the future." It changes too fast. And besides, the future is just too uncertain. The long-standing process to prepare a business strategy, as we have always known it, doesn’t work in a world of accelerated change.

To survive in today’s reality, businesses need a new paradigm for success, and just maybe, survival. To survive and succeed, organizations need to be aware of the changes taking place and how those changes affect them. Every strategy must establish the need for adaptability, innovation, and execution. The culture of the organization must embrace change and be continuously improving the processes that define what they do and how they do it. The new approach to strategy must be driven by a "Fitbit" mindset for continuous improvement.

Strategy

Strategy must establish the principles for how the future will become a reality.

  • Strategy is about the principles of the business.
  • Strategy defines the intent for what the organization will do.
  • What it will do for the customer, the staff and the community in which it resides.
  • Strategy must create a vision of what the organization is today and what it wants to become.
  • Strategy is what we say, it is the compass – it guides activities and efforts.
  • Strategy defines the role for innovation, experimentation and change throughout an organization.

Culture

Culture, on the other hand, is what the people in an organization believe. It is how things actually get done. No matter what the rules, how often the pronouncements are made, culture makes things happen or not happen.

  • Culture is what people do – it is the driver of results.
  • Today, building an organization’s culture is more important than crafting the strategy.
  • Culture is how decisions really are made and action taken.

One of the biggest challenges most leaders face today is building or changing their organization’s culture to align with its strategy.

Aligning culture with strategy is essential.

Between strategy and culture, the strategy is the easy part.  Getting the culture aligned with the strategy takes lots of effort and time.  However, aligning strategy and culture enables organizations to realize a greater share of the opportunities they encounter. Remember the quote – "A good plan executed right now is better than a perfect plan implemented next week!" – G. Patton

And now the challenge: Just in case you haven’t noticed, everyone in every organization is busy.  The flattening of organizational structures has left fewer people, doing more, with less. And consider this, if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when are you ever going to have time to fix it or make it better? Making the products, services, processes and the future of the organization better, is a must.

Aligning Strategy and Culture must be a continuous "work in progress". It’s a continuous effort that needs a stable framework. The framework should be defined by

  • Understandable performance metrics,
  • Measurement of actual performance and
  • Reporting on, and evaluation of, results achieved.

Creating the metrics comes first. However, creating the right metrics takes time and effort. The people who will be measured with the metrics must believe the metrics are "valid."

 

Metrics and Measurement

Metrics must be clear, understandable and aligned down and across the organization.

  • Metrics are the guides that bring each person’s performance in line with the organization’s overall goals.
  • Metrics are the notes the orchestra plays. Continuously "hitting the notes" and creating the music defines the culture.

Measurement requires the continuous monitoring of performance. The "Fitbit" feedback loop. Measurement sets the tone that performance that strives to meet the metrics is important and required. Measurement of results is the framework that

  • Aligns strategy and culture
  • Sets & resets the milestones for improvement
  • Alerts everyone to off-target results
  • Signals when changes are required

Additionally, metrics and measurement provide the data to analyze, evaluate and modify the business processes and activities that achieve results. This will reinforce the "Fitbit" mindset of continuous improvement.  Fundamental to an improvement effort or problem-solving methodology is the understanding that:

  • If You Can’t Measure Something, You Can’t Understand It.
  • If You Can’t Understand it, You Can’t Control It.
  • If You Can’t Control It, You Can’t Improve It!

Regular and timely reporting and review with the teams being measured will make the strategy and culture a reality. Timely reporting, reviews and involvement by the teams involved creates ownership of the results.

Timely reporting and review

This process provides feedback to those involved and supports the assessment of the effort being made and results achieved. It demonstrates the effort is important. Reporting and review aligns the vision from strategy with a culture to get things done. The effort to regularly measure, monitor, report and review with everyone in the organization may seem a large and, perhaps, needless task.

However, consider this;

  • A vision without a task is but a dream.
  • A task without a vision is but a drudgery.
  • But a vision and a task aligned can change the world.

In organizations, that means everyone understands what the vision is, what the metrics are and they are the ones to do it.  Culture aligned with strategy is what makes adaptability, innovation, experimentation and execution part of every person’s job.  While strategy is the guide, culture "gets it done".  Some words of wisdom:

  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast – lunch – dinner.
  • Strategies can be copied, but cultures can’t!
  • Culture is the only sustainable differentiation between organizations.
  • Culture is, or can be, a competitive advantage!

Conclusion

In a world where exponential change is the norm, organizations need a new paradigm; a paradigm that being aware of the changes going on around them. Understanding change is happening faster than ever before and isn’t slowing down.

Creating a strategy based on the knowledge that change – perhaps very disruptive change – is an everyday part of life. To be have a place in the future, organizations must realize that making small incremental changes may not be enough to survive. Leadership needs to embrace change and work to build a culture that is adaptive, innovative, experimental and strives to execute tasks well.

And remember, if you don’t do it, someone else will. The only question is when? What’s in your future?

Ben Boldt
Ben Boldt

Founder And Lead Consultant Visionary Solution Resources, Inc. (a BeachFleischman strategic alliance partner)
Experienced business consultant on strategic and operational performance with a successful track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and change management.
520 940 6152
ben@visionarysolutionresources.com