August 17, 2015

I have been helping large corporations develop new strategy for almost 20 years.  Here are 5 things I have learned:  strategies get overtaken by events so be agile; use megatrends to stretch future-thinking; focus on customers and innovation; dig deep into current business challenges; involve many different teams to create ownership and commitment.

1. Strategies get overtake by events so be agile

Our world is changing faster than you can hold a board meeting, and the days of a 5 year strategy cycle are over in most industries.  That means you need more than one strategy, and strategies need review every year.  Think ahead about contingencies and backup plans that will work across a wide number of possible futures.

Agility in strategy will be a number one survival issue.  Dynamic thinking and rapid decision-making, which means empowering local teams to make many more types of decisions, while retaining the capability to make radical central decisions at the speed of light in response to major global events.

Take the energy industry for example:  in 40 seconds, an earthquake in Japan cracked a nuclear reactor and changed 40 years of energy policy in Japan and Europe with an impact that will be felt across the world for a generation.

2. Use megatrends to stretch future-thinking

The most important single step in developing fresh strategy and vision is to take teams on a journey into the future.  Most business leaders are consumed by day to day pressures of running the business – tactics rather than strategy.

We need to step back and view the whole business in the wider context of global megatrends – long term factors which are changing relatively slowly and which will together dominate our future world.

We need to map out major new market opportunities and challenges in response to these, as well as important technologies, innovations, competitors and regulations.

As we have seen recently in banking, the greatest risk to any business is institutional blindness – leaders all influenced by the corporate past or by old ways of doing things.  We need to open people’s eyes, so they can find fresh vision, challenge and inspiration, which will drive future strategy.

3. Focus on future customers and innovation

The future of every business depends on happy customers, but strategies often focus on numbers, which usually fail to inspire teams.  Focus strategy on your most important customers and how they may change, and you are far more likely to grow a healthy business.

Track future lifestyles, fashions and fads in different markets.  How can we better understand how your customers will think and feel? How can you improve their experience?  What will they most need in future?

What innovations could radically transform their lives?  What other types of future customers could you target? What are you learning from competitors and other types of business?

4. Dig deep into current business challenges

Every company future is different. What are your greatest opportunities and challenges, strengths and weaknesses right now?  The greatest insights are often two levels below group executive team.

Look at past strategies (what actually happened and why).  Are people ready for change?  Look at where most investment and human effort is going right now – map this against future markets and needs, and all the other trends above.

Do you have the right people in place to take the company forward?

5. Involve many different teams to create ownership and commitment

Most strategies and change management programmes fail because senior managers and decision-makers are unconvinced and disengaged.  So involving a wide range of teams in developing new strategy is absolutely critical to success.

Bring them into the big picture, excite them about the future with your focus on customers. Show them how your company can really make the difference.   Consult teams about the detail of what is being proposed.  Broadcast great ideas and honor teams for their contribution.

And then you can track each team’s progress far more easily, in implementing their own part of the group strategy, with commitment and enthusiasm.

For more: read my new book The Future of Almost Everything - .

 “Absolutely brilliant.  I love this man’s exhilarating thinking and writing.  Here are fast far-sighted insights into the tangible and intangible horizons of future change, underpinned by wisdom about its ultimate driving force – human nature.”  Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School