Today’s Business Realities Require New Strategies to Stay on Top of the Waves of Change

April 10th, 2012

A recent Take Charge survey of both private sector and government executives shows that there continues to be a high level of uncertainty about the economic and political environment. The sagging economy continues to require significant budget constraints often accompanied with restructuring and layoffs. As a result, senior managers noted the need for more frequent assessments of strategies, increased attention to building a more resilient culture, and enhanced strategies for keeping staff committed and engaged. Across the board, senior managers are looking for better ways to recognize potential problems and identify opportunities.

We also heard that traditional approaches to strategic planning just aren’t effective in today’s world. What’s needed are short interval, action-oriented processes that enable organizations to assess the current state of the business, identify trends, clarify opportunities and quickly act on strategic initiatives that will ensure viability and profitability. And, those processes must promote understanding, create enthusiasm, and gain commitment across the organization in an abbreviated timeframe.

A third area of concern we heard about was how to get people to adopt new strategies for change when the environment is so scary. And yes, we do know the reason why people find change so difficult in this environment; the prehistoric and natural human instinct to either freeze in place or to run to a safe haven when threatened or in danger–neither of which work in this new reality.

First, the Basics

Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher at MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that for meaningful change to occur in unsettled times people must figure out how to work through the formula:

D x V x F > R. For real change to occur there must be a clear, agreed upon Dissatisfaction (D) with the present situation, an unambiguous Vision (V) of the future, and agreement on the specific First steps (F) needed to achieve that Vision. When those three things are present, you can overcome Resistance (R) to change and move the organization forward. If any of those three elements are weak or missing the outcome of any strategy will be less than satisfactory and will not achieve the intended results in the expected time.

So, How Do You Do That?

Top management teams who have been successful in navigating this unstable environment have learned that to be truly effective they must ensure that four factors are present as the cornerstones of any strategic planning:

  • First, they know they need to connect people across boundaries to build a common understanding of what has led to the need for a fresh look at strategy – the D factor in the Beckhard and Gleicher equation. That occurs by involving a broad range of stakeholders to assess the business, economic, political, regulatory, legislative and technological environments to ensure that all significant trends, threats, and opportunities are identified.  
  • Then, they ensure that all strategy work includes processes that will enable teams to gain consensus and commit to the hard decisions that are part of every strategic planning process. That includes investing time to clarify the organization’s mission and values as the platform for strategic discussions and decision making. That also means gaining agreement about current priority products, services, and markets, their emphasis, and the viability of those businesses. Clarity around why they are in business and data from the environmental analysis and the agreed mission and values informs decisions about future products, services and market emphasis and the development of implementation plans for new strategies.
  • They also understand that implementation plans must have clear, measurable goals and that they must ensure that there is a real understanding about all that implementation will entail, including resources that will be required. Successful executive teams create understanding and ownership by engaging operational units to identify and clarify the actions, the projects, and the planning needed to get to the preferred future with a very clear understanding about first steps – the V and F (Vision and First Steps) factors in the Beckhard and Gleicher equation.
  • Finally, top management teams who have been successful in navigating the choppy waters of uncertainty put processes in place to continually check strategies against changes in the environment. That requires setting up steering or governance teams or informal, but regularly scheduled, processes to gather continuous feedback about the environment as well as about the progress of implementation and then using that information to make critical decisions related to implementation projects, roles, responsibilities, and resource allocation.

Engagement, the Key Differentiator

Engagement and ongoing attention are key differentiators when it comes to strategy. No matter how well you plan your strategy, without the passion and action of the organization you have nothing. The greater your capacity to tap into the hearts and heads of the organization in ways that enable broad involvement in changing strategies the more likely you’ll create hope and optimism despite the uncertainty of today’s business environment. And those are two factors all organizations should aspire to even when the environment is good!

Interested in how Take Charge can help you design a new strategy or adjust to changing market or environmental conditions in far less time than you thought and with even greater success or results?  Call us at 610.380.0970 or email us at