In today's world of high velocity disruption, a big question for business leaders is whether strategy is dead.
Writing for Forbes, entrepreneur Rick Smith, says: "Incrementalism has been disrupted by disruption. Innovation in most organisations can best be described as 'trained incrementalism'. Managers throw buzzwords around like 'out of the box thinking' and 'paradigm shifts', but when pressed to deliver, quickly retrench and focus on efforts that are merely incremental. […] Disruption is coming to a company near you. Most organisations are not prepared for this, or even preparing for it."
In other words, when faced with change on an unprecedented scale, many business leaders are unsure how to forge ahead. The old methods and processes are not necessarily as effective as they once were. And so organisations fail to bring about meaningful changes to the way in which they operate.
It is commonly agreed that unprecedented change and disruption is here to stay and so, is strategy increasingly defunct in this capricious business landscape and if it is, what does this mean for business leaders?
We would argue that strategic review and thinking is still extremely relevant for business leaders. What does need to be challenged and innovated are the models and methods for approaching strategic planning and execution.
But are strategy and disruption really mutually exclusive? Or can the two be combined to produce even greater results?
According to leading graduate business school INSEAD, strategy is still one of the most popular MBA specialisations. And Javier Gimeno, chair of INSEAD's strategy department, suggests that its usefulness grows in direct proportion to disruption: "Strategic thinking is important for knowing what to do differently, or knowing what not to do. The more the business environment changes (new technologies, new competitors and new customer trends), the more important it is to think strategically about how to respond."
Whatever sector you operate in, you can't change and develop your business without first having a clear vision. It's critical to understand both where you are now and where you want to go.
Anna Davis, the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy, says: "A high-changing and agile world does not mean chaos. But if we start saying things such as there's no room for strategy anymore, then we are potentially opening ourselves up to chaos. Organisations have a purpose; they have a direction. But how do they achieve that?
"[…] Ultimately, it is still all about the client; delivering to them and getting returns from them. And you still need a strategy, in order to achieve this."
Today, organisations face pressures both internally and externally and these make change difficult to plan for. However, that does not mean it's impossible. There are already widely accepted approaches, such as the Agile movement, that can enable businesses to alter their operating model, while still staying true to their purpose for existence.
Agile, for example, offers an alternative way to manage change, helping business to be more responsive and more adaptive. Anna says: "With an Agile approach, you still have a goal and a budget but you are more iterative in development along the way. You are not crossing your fingers and hoping you’ll get there in the end. Agile gives you intentional, discrete packages of deliverables. These can be acted on quickly, getting feedback and iterating and, at the same time, you can start to develop your next set of discrete deliverables."
"[…] So you might have a strategy, but the way in which you implement that strategy might be different from how you're used to doing it."
Strategic thinking is still fundamental to achieving competitive advantage but, like the business environment itself, the way this is planned and delivered needs to be open to new thinking. Strategy can't be locked down – it needs to respond to the forces of the external world (both good and bad). Business leaders need to work rapidly and iteratively, responding to circumstances as they arise.
Ultimately, we need to ask: if strategy is dead, then what takes its place? If we have no vision, what does that look like? If we don't have a shared understanding of the "what" and the "how", how is change going to come about?
Strategy is still fundamental to business evolution, but the way in which we implement it is changing. While businesses need to remain focused on meeting the needs of their customers, the way in which they do this needn't remain static. In basic terms, strategy is about bringing to fruition a desired goal. Today, the road to success may be less defined and a little bumpier, but it still exists.
Anna Davis is the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy. With specialist expertise in change management, organisation design and strategic capability development, she works with senior leaders across a range of industries and cultures to deliver high performance.
Crossing Jordan® Limited has designed and developed Change Dimensions® – a practical change management business tool delivered as three leading-edge intuitive Change Apps®. These apps help you manage change, on the go and on any device – change at your fingertips.