Rethinking your organisational strategy in the midst of a pandemic…. the dos and don’ts

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The name Michael Eugene Porter does not need introduction when it comes to the subject of organisational strategy. He is [popularly] credited for creating the Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, which is instrumental in business strategy analysis. Professionally, Michael Porter is an American academic known for his theories on economics and business strategy. He is currently the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School. Porter is also credited for being one of the founders of consulting firm The Monitor Group and FSG, a social impact consultancy company based in  (now part of Deloitte).

Michael has a popular quote on strategy that says: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”. To wit, it is important to clarify which actions to take and which ones to avoid in a time like this when rethinking your organisational strategy.

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting the global economy, and its impact on corporate organisations cannot be overemphasised. It has thus become necessary for leaders of corporations to revisit their strategy and rethink the way forward.

We are of the opinion that it would be out of place for organisations to take hasty decisions instead of clearly re-thinking their competitive strategy in times like.

Response to the ‘New Normal’

Timely decisions are needed now in order to come out victoriously! Obviously, as the PwC’s Global Crisis Centre put it – “COVID-19 (coronavirus) presents significant challenges to people and organisations around the globe and the disruption continues to evolve. It’s important that businesses prepare for and respond to this ‘new normal’ in order to ideally emerge stronger”.

The celebrated global business leader and former General Electric Chairman, Jack Welch says: “Strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell”. But the question is: what to do and what not to do. At a time like this, every business leader is concerned about the welfare of their employees and organisations. This makes organisational decisions more sensitive. Particularly during this pandemic, any miscalculated step could further complicate issues regarding the wellbeing of corporations.

The focus of this article is to assist leaders of corporations to revisit, re-strategise and redeploy an effective organiaational strategy going forward. It provides strategy ideas on how corporate leaders can re-engineer growth amid COVID-19.

What is an Organisational Strategy?

An organisational strategy is a detailed roadmap of an organisation’s plan of action toward achieving its main goal or core objectives. The strategy plan could be for a short period or long-term. That notwithstanding, to develop a comprehensive organisational strategy, corporate leaders must assess their current state and the economic environment vis a vis their long-term plans.

The Five Elements in an Organisational Strategy Document

It is important to identify the basic elements of an organisational strategy.

  1. Strategy Positioning

An organisation’s strategy should not remain static regarding its positioning. It should not be a ‘cast in stone’ document. This is very important, because for some leaders until there is a ‘pandemic’ or a serious disruption in organisational activity, they rarely revisit their strategy document. It is important to review the strategy document from time to time, and senior managers must be on top of the elements therein. Thankfully, the global pandemic has now made this easier for most firms. This is a good time to rethink your strategy. For a corporation to be able to achieve its goals, it is important for it to review its strategy document regularly.

  1. Strategy Priority

Where is the organisational strategy derived from? From the company’s vision and mission statement. A clear vision is therefore an important asset for a forward-looking corporation. Unfortunately, some organisations are yet to get a clear vision of where they are going. Every activity in the company should seek to fill this purpose; the mission thus guiding all strategic decisions. A company’s vision describes what the company will have achieved in fulfilling its core mission. From the vision follows the long-term goals of an organisational strategy. Institutions that lose sight of their core mandate in the marketplace are not likely to make any meaningful impact.

  1. Strategy Personalities

The key personnel to be involved in developing the strategy document should be the senior level management. However, it is important not to totally sideline the participation of middle level decision-makers, and even the rank and file of the organisation. Of course, this document is then presented to the board for approval before implementation.

An important aspect of the strategy development should include consultation with an expert or professional. For instance, it is best to get a finance expert to advise on financial issues in the company. Also, in today’s highly digitalised world, it won’t be out of place to consult experts on digital marketing, social media management and the like. It is an open secret that most firms in developing economies are yet to digitise their operations, including public sector organisations, and this is a good time for them. In as much as most organisations try to run from these costs, they always pay in the end. Remember that the expert knows a lot of things you may never consider, and so it is vital to tap into their wisdom.

  1. Strategy Packaging

The way corporate leaders package and deploy strategy matters as far as organisational productivity is concerned. Most often, organisations fail to achieve their core objectives because they get it wrong when it comes to strategy packaging and deployment. On strategy packaging, respected business leader Jack Welch advises that corporate leaders must insist on putting the right people behind the right jobs. By this, he emphasises that there must be an alignment in the deployment of skills and strategies regarding tasks. In other words, there must be a perfect fit. This is very important, because for an organisation to have guaranteed results, the most competent people must be rightly positioned within every level of the organisation. Skills and expertise must match positions!

  1. Strategy Purpose

The last element in the organisational strategy is its strategy purpose.  It is important not to forget the original intention of the strategy, which is to improve organisational culture and performance. Put another way, the profitability of your organisation depends on your corporate strategy. Corporate leaders must therefore keep an eye open on implementation of the strategy, and continually ask themselves if the purpose of the strategy document that was developed is being achieved.

Does an Organisational Strategy Document Make a Difference in Any Way?

Yes, it does! There are too many leaders with ‘systems, structures and organisational secrets in the heads!’. Strategy needs to be documented and effectively communicated for it to work in an organisational setting. The most effective and efficient organisations are the ones with clearly stated organisational strategy that is well conceptualised, documented, communicated and executed excellently!

Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., and author of the book ‘The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy’. In his article titled Why You Need a Plan: 5 Good Reasons – Strategic Planning, he itemises five important roles an organisational strategy document plays in achieving success for business.

According to him, an organisational strategy:

  1. Sets the direction and priorities for the company
  2. Helps to rally everyone on the same page
  3. Simplifies the decision-making process in the organisation
  4. Helps to match skills with the appropriate tasks
  5. Helps in better organisational communication

What are the Key Factors to Consider in Deploying Organisational Strategy?

We believe that there are five factors to consider in every strategy development implementation process.

These are:

  1. Strategy Conceptualisation

Strategy conceptualisation is the most important part of the entire process. When you get this wrong, your entire strategy can jeopardise the chances of your success. Simply put, your concept strategy won’t break the ice in the marketplace. The conceptualisation of your strategy must be premised on highly intelligent information gathered and not just on hearsay. Too many business leaders fail to read and make highly intellectualised decisions. Your plan must be based on relevant data collected through research and not on assumptions. Probably, it is time for organisations to revisit the importance they give to research and development.

It is important to also note that developing strategy takes time and resources. It requires the time and commitment of some of the most highly paid and highly experienced people in your organisation. So, if your team isn’t willing to invest what is needed to achieve your strategy objectives, we recommend that you don’t do it.

  1. Strategy Consultational Engagement

There must be consultation from the top to rank and file of the organisation. It is vital to state that this stage helps when you have a culture of corporate intelligence in place. According to SmallBusiness.Chron.com: “Senior management creates the company’s larger organisational strategy. Its middle managers, on the other hand, adopt plans and goals to fulfil the strategy step by step”. Of course, that does not mean those at the bottom will not be contacted before development of the strategy concept. Your organisational strategy must not be a secret document as far as your employees are concerned, unless in special cases.

We like the way author and business adviser Greg Satell puts in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Strategy to Achieve Organisational Change’:

“Perhaps most importantly, managers need to understand that transformation is not about decisions made in a boardroom, but about what happens on the ground. To succeed, transformational efforts need to empower line-managers and employees with more than just lip-service, but rather with real resources which help them solve the real problems that come with adopting new practices.”

  1. Strategy Competitors

This is the most sensitive and valuable part of the organizational strategy implementation. Corporate competition is real and, of course, no business is an island! Every organisation [depending on its range of products and services] has its own competitors – and yours won’t be an exception. Even if you think you are not competing with anyone, others are; so, you should pay attention to it when executing your strategy. It is worth noting that it is not just about competing. Having said that, it is important to state organisations can compete better by collaborating. This is called collaborative competition.

An organisation’s competitive advantage refers to what business it does best and how it does it. In other words, an organisation’s core competency – along with the sum of what it knows through experience, talent and research. However, during this pandemic, entrepreneurs must review this aspect of the plan and re-streamline the list. Who are our main competitors? How do we reposition our business to lead our competitors? How do we improve on my competitive strategy in this marketspace? What emerging technology tools can help us to compete better, and how do we deploy these? Which new talents do we need in our team? Which organisations do we need to collaborate with in order to become more competitive? Which departments do we downsize?

These questions provide an essential guideline to developing a comprehensive competitive strategy for an organisation to thrive. Without this, most organisations end up with the ‘copy and paste approach’. Remember that your strongest weapon in the marketspace is your competitive strategy.

  1. Strategy Culture

In our book titled ‘How to Set Goals and Achieve Them with Ease’, we opined that: “The key to driving great organisational performance is a culture of goal-setting”. To wit, organisation culture is the fibre that holds the entire company together and empowers it to deliver results. A poor organisational culture stutters growth, and profitability.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):

“An organisation’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organisation. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviour and understanding. Organisational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.”

Because industries and situations vary significantly, there is not a one-size-fits-all culture template that meets the needs of all organisations. A weaker organisational culture will, therefore, gradually and silently destroy the strength of the entire organisation. An example of a weak organisational culture is one with strong politics and weak corporate intelligence, and poor structures and systems. In implanting your organisational strategy, you must ensure the system creates a happy and productive workplace that encourages employee growth and rewards performance.

  1. Strategy ‘Come-Back’

There is always a need to come back to the strategy document and review it from time to time. This is one of the most important keys to making strategy work. It is not enough to develop a great strategy document and leave it on the shelf, which is what most companies do. Both public and private institutions are guilty of this.

In fact, the difference between African organisations and those of the west is not really a lack of ideas but the implementation of those ideas. As the leader of your corporation, you need to refer to the strategy document regularly in your daily, weekly and quarterly meetings, and ensure that everyone is on the same page as you are. You must encourage your team to ‘walk the talk’. This is how to make organisational strategy a success.

The authors are entrepreneurs, author-publishers, bloggers, podcasters, speakers and organisational strategy consultants. Kindly send your comments, suggestions and if possible corrections to –  [email protected]

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