The times when having a 10 years strategy was a good enough move are long gone. The world is changing too fast. A rigid 10 years strategy is now a sure way to stay behind.
For organisations, success today is preconditioned by having a clear strategic direction but also being willing (and ready!) to adapt their strategy periodically, as per the emerging needs in the market. If these preconditions are fulfilled and you made it the point of having an adaptive strategy, that is already a great achievement. You are en route to significant impact in the market through the practice of experimentation.
Do you need an adaptive strategy?
The journey your company took to get to your strategic approach is as important as what you will be doing next. In fact, I dare to say that if you want to succeed, you’d benefit highly from take another look at your strategy building process so far before you start implementing your new strategy. By doing that, you will save your organisation a great deal of resources (and mitigate significant risks).
Knowing what kind of strategy would serve your company most requires an analysis of a number of key elements. Understanding these elements will put your organisation in a position to not only build a strategy that makes sense for the world today, but also to ensure you stay on track towards your vision, which, simply put, is your imagined world when your organisation has achieved its mission.
If you already have a defined strategy, make an assessment as to whether the below elements were thoroughly considered as you were building it. If you find they were not, my strong advice is to go back and think it through again. And again. Until, when asked about any of the below, one/ two clear and concise sentences are the first thing that come to your mind. Having great clarity on all the below will help you stir your ship towards a (more) adaptive strategy.
The key elements when building a strategy
Whether you are creating a strategy for your new or existing business or for an area or function of your business, these are the elements to consider in the process:
Your organisation (be it a for profit or not for profit/ social business) came to exist because a need was identified in the market. From that need, an opportunity emerged. And your organisation took it and started its activity.
When building a new strategy, look at – who else is activating in the same space as you and consider how you can do things differently or how can you partner. The later may work better for social/ not for profit businesses, but in my experience large private businesses also benefited a lot from integrating in their value or supply chain smaller, but strong, often local businesses that held a strong position in the market and had a good reputation among the stakeholders and customers.
Your organisation defined its offering based on the need and opportunity identified, and after (hopefully) a thorough research of the relevant actors and market realities, found a space to occupy in the market. That space is where and how offering the solution, as envisioned and defined, will unfold.
When building a new strategy, look at – Is this a relevant solution for my potential customers? Is the market ready to adopt my solution? Some businesses looked at the business opportunity from a need perspective without thoroughly considering the odds of the customers actually consuming it. About 90% of startups fail. And 42% fail solely because their solution did not actually solve a market need. There is no room for guessing when it comes to knowing what the audience would buy. Use the various sources of data to assess whether your solution is still a realistic and viable one for the market.
Your organisation should have a solid base of relevant stakeholders backing up your business idea/ offering. Opening up your idea for the right people to input into how to turn it into a business is key to creating a market ready product.
When building a new strategy, look at – who are the people/entities who would know more about the need you are trying to meet; the potential customers; the market; your product. These people should either directly input into your brainstorming process or data validated by them should considered when making decisions about your business. For this phase of the process, it is important that, together with your selected team members, you add people who can bring a fresh, new, different perspective to yours. These people can be new employees, external/relevant consultants or other stakeholders.
You found a need, an opportunity and using the data and the stakeholders’ input you created a product or service ready to go to market. You are defining a strategy for positioning and marketing your product in the desired market. Then what?
Many organisations fail here. Right at this very point. They have defined the strategy but have not thoroughly planned for implementation. Having a strategy as a set of words that declare your direction towards your vision is certainly not enough. This strategy must include a clear tactical plan of what you will do – if not step by step, at least stage by stage. Doing this will reveal to you what you need to get to where you want to go, in terms of resources.
When building a new strategy, look at – doing the planning phase thinking not only about the actual tactics, but look in depth towards the resources needed in the implementation phase. There is a great diversity of aspects to consider and nuances of the different resources, which are key to your success. Making a plan for strategy implementation reveals to you what your needs in terms of resources are. Different resources will include financial, non-financial and human resources.
Building on the above, an example of nuances regarding resourcing for strategy implementation is how to distribute the human resources. For instance, if the surface question is: how many people do we need to implement this strategy and in what positions?, the nuance question would be – are these people already equipped with the skills needed for our vision or do they need training or other kind of support? If so, what are the resources needed for that? Do we look internally or externally for these skills? Consider financial cost, time, equipment etc.
When building a new strategy, look at – getting the team to buy into your strategy. Ideally, you would have included them one way or another into the strategy building process. You can have representatives of your different business areas who will contribute to building the strategy (as per the ‘visionaries’ comment above); they will then share the key elements of the process with their respective teams – everyone should be aware of the process and have a broad idea of where you might be headed as an organisation, as this will help with the adoption of the new ideas and projects as you start implementing your strategy.
The steps/ the walk
Once you have the strategy, the plan and the resources all prepared, you can start the actual implementation process. By now, you would have made sure all interested parties are aware of and understand the new strategic direction and they are all ready to make their contribution to making it happen. You want to be ready for the implementation, but not wait too long to start implementing it as time is sensitive and by the time you are actually on it, it may be less than relevant – both the market and the competitors are moving fast!
When building a new strategy, look at – what is the right way to implement the strategy. Do you keep business as usual and include new strategic projects/ practices step by step or do you start a new business trajectory altogether and take on the market? The key is to assess two things: 1) In which way is the market more prone to receive the new strategy; 2) What is your organisational culture like (embracing change easily vs. adopting change one teaspoon at a time) and 3) What approach is your team more open to and ready for? You do not want to take a sharp right when your people are not leaning the same way for balance.
You have to keep an eye on how things are going, as you go on implementing the strategy. You want to get a sense of how it is being received internally and externally. You do not want to wait until the end of the strategy cycle to assess if this direction is getting you to where you want to go, from a business perspective. You will be able to get an idea of how things are going probably a good 6 months into the new strategy.
When building a new strategy, look at – including a clear set of KPIs to help you assess the impact you are having and whether you are moving in the direction of your goals at the desired speed. To build a good monitoring and evaluation framework, you will first have to define how success looks like. Then, set some relevant indicators (remember to make them measurable: responds to true/ false; yes/no; or it is a number). You will need a reference point, a benchmark to measure your progress against. You will also need a measurement tool for each indicator, which can give you information as precise as possible. And of course, you would need a timeline for the measurement, for each indicator. With this framework, you can capture important evaluation data which will help you on your next phase. Which is- adaptation.
There are very few strategies that stand full implementation without several adaptations along the way. In fact, it’s healthy to have to adapt it, especially nowadays – being open and ready to adapt your strategy is key to achieving your ultimate goals. As explained earlier, many organisations now define what is called a rolling strategy – a process that while keeps the general direction, allows for updating the ‘how to get there’ without destabilizing the company.
When building a new strategy, look at – including a clear adaptation process in the mix. After considering all the points above, you might need to adapt or not (your strategy as defined is still relevant and bringing you the results you want). Do keep in mind though that there will be some elements from your strategy you will not want to change at any cost (as these are perfectly aligned with your company’s mission). However, there will be some that allow for flexibility – so when the data from the evaluation comes in, you are ready to adjust or even change some of the later to keep you heading steadily towards your grand goal. After all, this is the era when design thinking seems to be the most desired way to build towards your goals – and this adaptation stage is what is sure to bring you in the vicinity of this approach.
By this point, you might be ready to go back and revisit your strategy process. Or you are able to talk about every point above in a few short sentences, as indicated towards the beginning of this article. What might have changed unequivocally is your view on considering adaptation when it comes to your business strategy.
All in all, If your strategy is based on strong data, designed with input from relevant stakeholders and comes with an action plan which clearly illustrates a) the stages of implementation, b) your resource needs and their distribution and has a c) periodic evaluation framework, then it may actually stand a chance. And be ready for the next adaptation cycle.
At ABCS Consulting and Strategy, we help clients build strategies, integrate design thinking in their business approach, bring new ideas to life in the shape of new products and business offerings and support with implementing their strategies alongside their team.
Contact us for an initial consultation to see how might we support you on your journey.