Guest Post by Patrick Ow (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
As COVID-19 has disrupted life all over the globe, organisations are forced to significantly change and adapt to the ever-changing customer attitudes and preferences resulting from the pandemic.
The competitive playing field and business environment have been reset. It is now back to square one for many businesses. Businesses have to operate like a start-up, big and small. And they have to start at the same time when governments relax their social isolation requirements.
There are long-term implications for industries like retail, transportation, travel, hospitality, etc. Organisations in these disrupted industries must quickly adapt or change their business and service models to serve new consumer behaviours to survive and thrive and to take advantage of new business opportunities presented.
Time will be of the essence. Being the first to the finish line and to take advantage of new opportunities presented will be the key to a successful recovery in a post-COVID-19 world.
Organisations must respond to changing consumer attitudes
The pandemic has fundamentally changed the world as we know it. People are living, buying and spending differently. Relationships with consumers, customers and employees have been redefined.
Consumers across the globe are looking at products, services and even brands through a new lens.
In many ways, people are thinking differently. Shopping habits and the way people spend their money have changed permanently.
Consumer priorities have become centred on the most basic needs, sending the demand for hygiene, cleaning and staples products soaring, while non-essential categories have slumped, at least for the short to medium term.
Supply chains have been disrupted and tested. Retailers are closing their doors permanently. Consumers are buying local. Digital commerce is booming. Entertainment, learning and DIY have risen.
People will be prioritising more time with their family and friends. Many will use their vehicle more to avoid crowds.
There are reluctance and even hesitation to make new purchases like cars due to personal financial, job security and economic concerns.
People who have never worked from home previously are now planning to work from home more often in the future.
Organisations need new strategies to survive
As such, new products and services will be required to meet the change in consumer attitude. Preferences have shifted or changed substantially during the pandemic.
Business, operating or service models must pivot or be changed entirely to deliver new products, services and opportunities in the shortest possible time to meet the change in consumer attitudes and preferences.
To respond to this change, businesses will require new strategies and corporate plans to be formulated quickly as economies are starting up and social distancing rules relaxed.
Once new business strategies have been formulated, it will require a ruthless but rapid execution of these strategies. Only the timely and effective implementation of these new strategies will determine which businesses will survive and thrive, and which will fail.
What is interesting is that businesses will all have to start/restart at the same time, thanks to governments announcing start dates for the reopening of their economies and boarders. Thereafter, it is survival of the fittest where time will be of the essence especially for businesses in disrupted industries like retail, hospitality and travel.
Unfortunately, many executives will be tempted to use their pre-pandemic strategy as a start point. Some may even be tempted to layer-on ‘new’ strategies over existing ones. But they shouldn’t.
The reality is that their operating context or environment has significantly changed and disrupted as the result of the pandemic. There are significant economic and social fallout to watch out for. Many organisations are or will be highly vulnerable during this period.
It is best to look at the challenge with fresh eyes.
The bottom line is that business strategies in the post-pandemic world will look so different for many. Business strategies must relate to where the business is at right now, reflecting known uncertainties about the near-term future, at least until economies start to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Whether we are talking about corporates, not-for-profits, or government agencies, leaders and executives will have to change the way they run their business today and how they will run them tomorrow.
The customers that they know previously may not be the same today or even tomorrow. The ‘new’ normal will not be the same as the ‘old’ normal. Rapid change and disruption will only become the ‘new’ normal.
Organisations need a rapid execution to succeed
When more intense competition is placed on businesses to succeed, many organisations will be under pressure to rapidly execute their new strategies right the first time.
Speed and time to market will be vital to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the pandemic.
Rapid implementation of strategies will be required for organisations to succeed and thrive in the post-COVID-19 world.
Organisations that execute their new strategies better and faster will outperform their competitors and take the price.
There is no second chance when everyone is starting at the same time — when the government lifts restrictions. The margin for error will be so small that there is no time to waste. There is also no time to make mistakes.
This means that everyone in the organisation must be on board to successfully implement their new strategies.
Rapid but effective strategy execution will be the key determinants for business success or failure. It is only through the rapid implementation that executives will bring new strategies to life in the shortest possible time, translating what looks good on paper into reality and ultimately, into successes and opportunities.
Closing the execution gap
Unfortunately, strategies at many organisations are almost completely disconnected from its execution or implementation.
A ‘good’ strategy must be implementable.
Both strategy and execution must go together to realise the benefits of an effective corporate planning process.
Within the context of the post-COVID-19 recovery, our equation can be reframed as:
New Strategies + Rapid Execution = Survival
The good news is that there is an assessment tool that you can use to identify areas where there are gaps in your strategy execution — https://executeastrategy.com/strategy-execution-readiness-assessment.
The assessment questions itself can be your roadmap for survival.
Once you have identified the areas where you need to close the execution gap, it is then time to take immediate action.
Strategy execution is difficult
I am not going to sugar coat this.
Strategy execution is or can be difficult. It can be more difficult when the strategy execution process is over-engineered. But it does not need to be that way as the power of simplification prevails.
There is also very little guidance on strategy execution to help executives navigate through this topic. There are more management books written about strategy, strategy formulating and strategic planning than on the topic of strategy execution or implementation.
Granted, strategy execution is not glamorous. This task is usually relegated to operational managers to execute. It is a job considered done by executives once the corporate plan has been published with lots of pretty graphs and diagrams and nicely bound. And it is likely to be sitting on a bookshelf!
But as Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
If the published strategy cannot be effectively implemented or be successfully translated into tangible outcomes, then the strategy itself is flawed or unimplementable.
It is only through the act of translating the strategy into tangible results that we will ever know whether the strategy itself is good or faulty in the first place.
Do you have a faulty strategy or a faulty execution? Or both?
Are the results that you are getting now due to a faulty strategy or to faulty execution of the solid strategy?
Herein lies two problems or risks that corporate executives must overcome:
- Poor strategy execution that prevents organisations from achieving their vision and strategic goals — This is the faulty execution problem.
- Inferior strategies that prevent organisations from effectively translating them into action and successes — This is the faulty strategy problem.
So, who is to blame when organisations fail to deliver on their promises?
Organisations need a new approach for survival — This is your risk management strategy
The reality is that there will always be a time value to action. When you move slowly, you tend to encounter more and more resistance.
Therefore, corporate executives must use a better but rapid approach to strategy development, planning and execution in the current competitive environment to gain quick wins and successes.
Organisations will have no choice. They must deliver a rapid victory with limited resources, at minimal cost, and involving an integrated approach to strategy development, planning and execution.
Corporate executives need to use a rapid-cycle planning-and-execution approach to quickly produce a revolutionary but implementable strategy that could be rapidly executed by everyone in the organisation.
Rather than being bogged down with issues and concerns, teams could be formed to think, plan and execute together in real-time, regardless of geographic location. This will maintain the speed and alignment needed for successful but quick strategy execution.
There are three key elements for surviving and thriving in a post-COVID-19 world:
(1) Strategy development and planning sessions must be large-scale involving many people working simultaneously. These sessions can occur in real-time, with everyone contributing ideas and actions. Large scoreboards are visible to provide real-time status updates on the progress made towards achieving their vision and strategic goals. This will also help with real-time strategy and plan changes and pivoting.
(2) The organisational hierarchy (bureaucracy) is temporarily suspended for rapid action. Everyone can participate in briefings or meetings regardless of job titles. They are free to offer ideas, challenge assumptions and make things work.
(3) The collective IQ of everyone is harnessed and applied. This will leverage the perceptions, foresight, experience, reasoning and action of the diverse group of people involved in the rapid-cycle planning-and-execution approach.
Assemble a variety of planning and execution participants. The goal is to ensure that both formal and informal leaders and doers from throughout the organisational levels — management and non- management — and a variety of functions throughout the organisation are represented to bring their unique perspectives and action to the table.
Having a variety of planning and execution participants in the rapid-cycle planning-and-execution approach can produce several benefits:
- Obtaining a deeper knowledge and a better understanding of where the organisation’s strategic leverage points are — internally or externally. It helps also with understanding how to maximise the opportunities presented by these strategic leverage points.
- Regularly testing and pivoting of the ‘new’ strategy to ensure that it is practical, implementable and achievable within the given constraints and available skills set.
- Achieving ownership, commitment and buy-in of the ‘new’ strategy itself from a core group of people or doers who will also be instrumental in its implementation.
- Creating a stronger alignment and line-of-sight between corporate and operational management, together with personal achievements.
- Establishing a participative, collaborative and execution culture where: (i) ideas, suggestions and concerns are freely exchanged and incorporated in the strategy and action plans; (ii) ‘new’ strategies can be quickly implemented; and (iii) strategic issues critical to the success of the business and achievement of organisational vision can freely be surfaced, discussed and dealt with immediately.
All participants the rapid-cycle planning-and-execution meetings are expected to remain involved in the overall initiative throughout the strategy development and execution phases to help drive its success.
There’s a strategic decision-making team, which is a sub-set of the leadership team, who will allocate resources quickly after all strategic options have been evaluated and selected. Action plans are then quickly developed and rapidly implemented without delay.
The organisation could use online tools or technology for brainstorming, multi-voting and ranking to determine priorities.
Using these tooIs, participants are provided with regular feedback during and immediately after discussions, allowing everyone to challenge ideas and see, in real-time, whether consensus and ownership were developing.
Nine principles for rapid strategy execution
There are nine key principles related to the rapid-cycle planning-and-execution approach:
(1) Understand the dynamics that could affect the success
Assumptions about the current and expected future environment including the growth rate, competition, customer attitudes and requirements, and industry trends should be thoroughly evaluated and understood.
The key question is, What does success look like?
Planning for COVID-19 recovery can be a massive or complex undertaking that had to be compressed into a very short time. As such, there is a crucial need to bring together as many different perspectives and participants to understand the critical factors and risks that could affect the success and achievement of organisational vision. This will be the antithesis of most planning efforts where participation is only limited to a select or privilege few.
(2) Decide on what outcomes you want to achieve
Define the immediate outcomes you want to achieve, which is the future you want to create. Then describe how this success will be measured.
The purpose is to clearly define your strategy and specific performance targets and measures in three areas:
- Identity, which includes strategic focus, differentiation and image.
- Performance, which includes market position, financial benchmarks and value proposition.
- The organisation, which includes structure, capability and culture.
(3) Specify the behaviours that will help you win
Articulate behavioural expectations that are important to the organisation and the achievement of its vision.
Know the expectations, ideals and style that are important to the organisation and its successes in the following categories:
(i) Interpersonal — How people should interact, individually and as a group.
(ii) Operational — How day-to-day business activities should be conducted.
(iii) Opportunity — How issues Iike growth and innovation should be addressed.
(4) Leverage people, processes and infrastructure for success
Treat the organisation as a system. Then identify people, processes, and infrastructure that could be leveraged within that system to achieve your outcomes.
Always have a systems perspective and identify the following that could be leveraged:
- People in the system, which includes executive, employees and suppliers.
- Processes in the system, which includes decision-making, finance and operations.
- Infrastructure in the system, which includes IT, warehouses and distribution centres.
(5) Focus resources to where they will have a significant impact
Identify strategic leverage points in the system where resources can be reprioritised and allocated for the greatest impact. Focus resources on the strategic leverage points, which could include specific customers, processes, facilities, and other key success factors that have a much higher return than any other option.
There will always be issues with the availability of limited resources in organisations. To leverage and maximise resources for the best strategic advantage, concentrate on the strategic leverage points in the system. This is where limited resources can be used to achieve the greatest impact.
(6) Create plans in real-time and constantly improve them as you implement, learn and pivot
Everyone must be clear about the business environment that they find themselves in. Adjustments are inevitable in the execution of any strategy and plans.
Given the importance of speed, good enough plans are first developed for rapid execution.
When coordinating the strategy execution phase, recognise that no pIan survives its contact with reality. Perform a daily ‘re-pIan’ of performance targets and constantly re-prioritise resources based on real-time assessments of daily or weekly results (the reality).
Then, there will be four critical questions that must be constantly asked and answered:
(1) What did we set out to do?
(2) What happened?
(3) Why did it happen?
(4) What can we learn from it and what are we going to do differently next time?
(7) Use a campaign structure that focuses your efforts and resources
Temporarily ‘disband’ the organisational structure for the duration of the campaign. Then prioritise people and resources towards the ruthless implementation of key strategic projects (say up to 10) that support the achievement of the outcomes you are seeking to achieve, with a particular focus on the strategic leverage points.
Form strategic-action multi-disciplinary teams, one for each strategic project identified. Each team will confirm the actions required for achieving success.
The campaign approach is one of the fundamental concepts in military planning. A campaign is a temporary assemblage of people and resources. It has a laser-Iike focus on getting results as rapidly as possible.
The Desert Storm air campaign, for example, brought together the resources of the navy and air force for an intense six-week effort.
The campaign structure has two key advantages.
Firstly, it can be temporarily turned on when circumstances warrant and adapted in real-time.
Secondly, a campaign is an antidote to bureaucracy because it’s temporary. It continues only until the desired results have been accomplished or reached. Then, it disbands and the resources are re-prioritised elsewhere.
(8) Execute rapidly and precisely in parallel
All action teams worked in parallel. Each team laser-focus their efforts and resources on assigned priorities, which is based on the identified strategic leverage points. This will dramatically increase the likelihood of success.
In Desert Storm, fast, precise, parallel attacks had a devastating system-wide impact on Iraq. During the first 24 hours alone, the air campaign simultaneously attacked almost 15 Iraqi strategic targets with unprecedented precision. Leadership facilities, command centres, national communications, electrical systems, air defence headquarters, and crucial biological and nuclear warfare centres ceased to function at a useful IeveI. And the rest was history.
(9) Know when and how to exit
Each of the strategic action teams has plans with clearly specified goals and known beginning and ending points for the project. Everyone knows when the temporary campaign structure will cease and be disbanded.
Failure to effectively end a campaign properly could wipe out any gains that have been made previously. A key measure is whether your high-level strategic objectives have been achieved.
This is also to avoid the perennial problem of scope creep and the wavering of focus when it drags on without an end in sight.
Driven by a change in consumer attitudes resulting from the pandemic, many organisations are forced to develop and implement new strategies to survive and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.
This will require the development of ‘new’ but implementable strategies that will work in the current environment. It will also require the ruthless execution of that strategy using the rapid-cycle planning-and-execution approach to strategy development, planning and execution.
Time will be of the essence if organisations want to succeed and thrive.
Patrick Ow is a strategy execution specialist, corporate facilitator, personal coach, educator, and Chartered Accountant with over 25 years of international risk management experience.
He helps corporate executives and individuals execute their strategies and personal plans to get breakthrough results using The 7 Habits of Successful Strategy Execution. Visit https://executeastrategy.com or email email@example.com for details.
Patrick has authored several eBooks including When Strategy Execution Marries Risk Management – A Practical Guide to Manage Strategy-to-Execution Risk (available in Amazon).
In addition to his professional work, Patrick has a personal passion for preparing individuals for the future of work. Visit https://allmoneymakingideas.com more useful tips and articles.