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Jan 13, 2022

How you win in a time-strapped world.

The speed at which an organization embraces and responds strategically to disruption is increasingly a determining factor in whether it succeeds or dies. How can leaders deal with rapid disruption and expect to succeed in the future?

You are here.

Two telling statistics illustrate the speed at which markets are moving. The first deals with the life span of companies: the average lifespan of an S&P listed company has shrunk from 67 years in the 1920s to a mere 16 years today, and is continuing to shrink. Collapsing organizational lifespans leave leaders little time and fewer opportunities to get their strategies right before existential threats occur. The second one deals with the scale and reach of disruption: it took radio 40 years to reach 50 million listeners while it took Facebook just 2 years to reach the same audience. The upshot for leaders? It’s an extremely challenging and time-poor decision making environment to craft a winning strategy and then have it implemented quickly (and successfully) in the marketplace.

So how can you contend with hyperspeed constraints and immunize against disruption?

Strategy: the smart way.

What kills you: Traditional strategic planning. 

Strategic planning is often a long and drawn-out waterfall process where each assumption is built on another which cascades into the next assumption and so on. There are 2 major problems with traditional strategic planning. The first is that it takes a long, long time to complete. The second is that it assumes that the future will unfold exactly or closely to what is being espoused in the strategy. When the future doesn't occur as expected, the plan essentially collapses because it was built on supposition, or assumptions built on assumptions. As a result, the plan is inherently inflexible and requires that you go back to the drawing board over and over again. That takes time and never fully addresses disrupting events which inherently weren’t predicted or expected to occur.

Do this instead: Embrace strategic insight.

Strategic insight is a more pragmatic approach to strategy planning and is ideally suited for disruptive environments. Instead of developing a fully-baked plan based on a fully-baked outcome, strategic insight asks "What impact are we trying to achieve with what we know?" and "What might change?" Horizons are shorter and take into account the shifting market. Think of the strategic insight approach like a recipe, an end goal with a direction, and changing ingredients depending on what’s available. Using a strategic insight method accepts that there will be detours along the way to the impact goal. Even if the goal changes, the time to update the strategy is remarkably quicker.

Strategic insight is ideally suited for disruptive environments. It asks "What impact are we trying to achieve with what we know?" and "What might change?"

Be prepared. Always.

What kills you: Waiting to act until disruption.

Odds are if your organization is waiting for disruption to happen, you’ve missed reacting to all the signs that have come before telling you change is already underway. Think of it this way,  your competitor has already started figuring out your weakness while you were waiting for a big bang to take action.

Do this instead: Embrace disruption before you need to make moves.

Prepare and train your team to be disruption ready, at all times. Think of it as disruption fire drills. When you build contingency thinking, rapid response capability and a bias to action mentality into your cultural DNA, disruption becomes part of your business, not an obstacle to it. When we run our disruption ready workshops, organizations build new agile muscles, great skills that nurture a culture of ideation biased to action. The key is being able to practice and often in advance of needing those skills in a crisis.

No idea monopolies. Ever.

What kills you: Groupthink at the top. 

Any good organization has a leadership team and  board of directors with considerable business expertise. But a disruption that is critically impacting your business needs additional ideas, and lateral and unconventional thinking that may be beyond your leadership team’s specialized band of experience.

Do this instead: Unlock and unleash your team’s creativity—all the time

Canvas for new ideas all the time. You could discover the next market winner or an antidote to a major disruption. Even if ideas aren’t used right away, you’ll have a war chest for future consideration. Ask your team to “think in 3s”:

1) Ask for ideas that achieve product or service excellence

2) Ask for ideas that improve operational efficiency & productivity, and

3) Ask for ideas that create an amazing customer experience.

When you're canvasing for new ideas from your team, keep in mind these tips:

Tip 1: Break silos so anyone can bring forward an idea on any area of the organization as department focused approaches can often yield largely department-biased ideas and strategies. 

Tip 2: Keep in very close contact with your frontline customer service and sales teams. They hold the customer relationships and conversations and can often point to problems (and opportunities) on the horizon prior to them fully materializing into a disruption.

Belonging and purpose matter.

What kills you: Developing your strategy in isolation.

A strategy that has been developed without input or feedback from the larger team will not receive the buy-in and engagement required for the implementation and success of the strategy.

Do this instead: Remember that contributing an idea is an act of engagement. 

Your team has a vast collective intelligence critical to your organization’s success and resilience against disruption. When a team is asked to contribute, they feel that they matter, they activate around the organization’s purpose, their level of engagement and willingness to participate in the company’s success and survival dramatically increases. Communicate the challenge facing your company. Welcome ideas for the business challenge at hand. Recognize the contribution of ideas from your team and share the recognition collectively, even if the ideas are not used. Employees who value their part in the organization opt into implementation of strategy and facilitate rapid adoption because they are personally invested in the success of the strategy as a whole.

Oktay Kesebi is Chief Disruption Officer of Human at Work, a strategy lab helping organizations in transition and leaders driving change make their transformation stick. Oktay is passionate about helping global companies reframe their market challenges and pivot into new and profitable opportunities. If you’d like to learn how to thrive and be nimble during disruption, reach out to Oktay and he’ll share how we do it.