Where’s the ‘F’ in strategy? Leading for the long haul.

Local Champion Darkened (1)

Written by Alison Freer, Director of Consulting & Learning at durhamlane

Alison Freer has been announced as the Digital Leaders North East local champion 2018. Alison champions humanity amidst the churn of digital disruption. A founding member of Digital Leaders North East, Alison works widely with leaders in Tech, Engineering, Sales, NHS, Public Sector and HE. As a passionate native North Easterner, Alison challenges local leaders to keep her home Region ahead of the digital wave. 

How is it that some businesses continue to grow, even in volatile economic times? What are the magic ingredients that separate sustainable businesses from those that crash and burn when the going gets tough? A key part of the answer to these questions is having a clear strategy that leaders and their teams can get behind.

“People need to understand where the company is going and take autonomous decisions. The main value of a strategist is to understand the vision for three years and mobilize the organization around the vision and what people have to do to get there.” Jacques Pommeraud, former SVP and general manager of cloud services at Salesforce.

Strategy is a concept much talked about in many businesses, although not often clearly understood, nor well defined. Would you ever set out on a journey without knowing your destination? Perhaps some would, and it’s fine to do that if there’s just one or two of you. Take a tribe with you and you need a clearer purpose to avoid chaos or disaster.

Even the greatest pioneers in history had a strategy, whether it was to discover new resources or map new lands. Captain Cook and Walter Raleigh didn’t necessarily know where they would end up, although they knew what they were looking for, and what would make their expeditions worthwhile.

When there is no clear strategy, common symptoms include:

  • Knee-jerk decisions on hiring and acquiring, expansions or partnerships;
  • Lack of innovation, or too much time spent on new initiative overload;
  • Low delivery of tangible business benefits from change projects;
  • Declining competitive advantage as challenger businesses rapidly capture market share;
  • Mainstream revenue-generating products become outdated and lose profitability;
  • Sudden shocks to the business environment, whether economic, political or consumer loyalty, quickly derail the traditional business model.

It is one of the most fundamental leadership functions to ensure that strategy is constantly reviewed and refreshed. The most successful, high-growth and sustainable businesses today have a long-term view, and they take regular pulse checks of their strategy, at least every quarter – such is the speed of change. This is what McKinsey describe as a ‘two-speed’ strategy.

To stay on the crest of the leadership wave, rather than be swamped by it, leaders need to conduct regular ‘F’-tests of their business strategy.

  • Future-Focus – do you have your eyes on the horizon of your key markets? Do you understand how your customers’ needs, buying behaviours and decision making criteria are likely to change? (Never assume they will stay the same, even in markets you have known for a long time.)
  • Flux-proof – I have previously blogged about leading in a ‘VUCA World’ – your long-term strategy is working if you are still able to change tack and weather the storms of market Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.
  • Fit – at the end of the day, a strategy does not ‘live’ in a 50-page document, (although it is good to capture your original thinking and decision criteria as a reference point). Strategy lives in the thoughts, words and decisions of your people, and is validated through customer loyalty and promoter scores. Logic and analysis need to be combined with a ‘does it feel right test’. Does what we are deciding on today fit with your long-term goals and ever-present business values?

durhamlane Mantra #1: Business Fit. Business Value. Long-term Relationships.

The clarity of your strategy needs to be understood by people across your business. It needs to resonate strongly enough that, as teams increase in size, in those moments where a decision is needed, people don’t need a senior executive to tell them what course to choose.

How strong is the strategic capability in your leadership team? Arrange a complimentary assessment interview to discover how durhamlane’s Leading at a Higher Level programme can work for your business. [email protected]

This was originally published here.


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