But the future is becoming less predictable, and a fog of uncertainty has
been enveloping the course of time. We are navigating in highly complex
and dynamic waters, where the shores themselves are mobile.
Is it even possible to actively shape transitions from the present to the
future in such conditions? Or are previously successful strategists left
sitting on the riverbank, brooding as they watch success take its own toll?
Certainly not. The way forward is to simply throw outdated doctrines and
strategic management methods over board. Focus on the new
opportunities appearing on the horizon of this transformed landscape.
Here’s a little road map:
1. Shift your focus from differentiation to direction and opportunities
Differentiating from existing competitors within your industry will no longer suffice. In fact, focusing on your competitors may block your vision and limit your perspectives. Instead, try to identify the greatest opportunities first. Next, think about how to successfully implement them.
This requires having defined a clear purpose for your company based on the question of: “Why does our organization exist, and which (customer) problems do we solve?”
Once you've discovered your new high-potential playing field, you’ll need the courage to actually enter it. Use the power of your best employees. Ask them where they see the greatest opportunities and how your company could utilize them. You’ll be surprised about their feedback.
2. Put customers first, not competition
We all know that customers come first. Customer centricity has become a prevalent concept in most companies. However, it is often applied inconsistently. A true customer focus also extends to strategy. Customers need to be the lodestar for all business decisions. Rather than aiming for a certain output based on the number of products and services sold, you need to focus on the actual outcome, i.e. the desired effect on the customer. This will reveal undreamed-of opportunities.
Have the courage to sail into unknown waters! Dive into new customer worlds, away from prefabricated interaction patterns. Use these encounters to develop your strategy. If you consciously learn from these experiences, they will be worth a lot more than extensively discussed ivory tower decisions.
3. Ignore limits that no longer exist
In times of increasingly connected and convergent markets, both physical and virtual boundaries are blurring. Challenges might emerge from totally different parts of this world. Challenges that weren’t on our radar. Local industry meetings and experienced consultants may create a feeling of security. “It’s all good. We’re all in the same boat,” is the common tenor. This doesn’t leave much room for the unknown.
4. Consider your organization an ecosystem, not just a value chain
The traditional linear model of suppliers and distributors cannot be easily transferred into the future. The fact that most anything can be digitalized increasingly jeopardizes the classic value chain concept. Customer data is replacing traditional factors like production capacity as a competitive advantage. Gaining full access to customer data means having to cooperate with suppliers and distributors. This requires a new mindset. If you are managing your suppliers only by asking for the lowest price, they will have little interest in cooperating with you. In fact, they will ultimately be searching for alternatives.
Reorienting your company requires a radical change of mindset. “What will we be outsourcing?” will be one of the key questions to ask. I realize that this implies making major decisions and fundamental changes. Yet, ignoring the issue might threaten your entire existence.
5. Burn that strategy paper
Are you still operating based on a classic strategy paper? Are you going by the standard recipe consisting of management, a renowned consultant, two days in a luxurious, secluded offsite location with some golfing and a glass of red wine, cooking up a multipage strategy paper with an impressive layout?
Seriously? How much of it is actually implemented? Daily business tends to sweep away any good intentions created during strategy meetings, and glossy strategy papers quickly accumulate a thick layer of dust on the executive officer’s desk.
Drink your glass of red wine somewhere else and strike a new strategy development path. Leave your orbit, and go where the future is happening: to your customers. Yes, this does require time and space for reflection and discussion – ideally, in a truly different environment. “The same procedure as every year” isn’t going to change your future.
6. Make your strategy implementation mobile
In our highly dynamic markets, it makes no sense to build rigid bridges or create massive waterfall-like implementation projects. Work with mobile building blocks instead. Take one step at a time. This will help you to stay clear of any breaking dams. It will also let you adjust your direction if necessary. Your company purpose will serve as a compass.
Having an agile toolbox handy will help. You’ll find many useful tools for your strategic implementation processes in there. Please note: Tools are only helpful if you know how to use them. You might need to practice a little. Just like stepping on a floating pontoon for the first time may feel strange, you will need to get used to agile approaches. But you’ll soon learn to love the mobility and effortlessness of agility.
Discipline leads to success!
I wish you much success on your way to new shores. Beware: No matter which great new bridges you build, don’t expect instant miracles. Agile transformation processes take time. The ultimate bridge between a goal and its successful implementation is discipline, as Jim Rohn stated. More on that in my next blog.