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Flexibility & rigor

  • Posted On: 11th June 2013
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Strategic planning is not by itself a panacea for effectively plotting the direction of a company, as the process cannot foretell exactly how the market will evolve and what issues will surface in the coming days and months ahead. This calls for flexibility and rigor as a cornerstone of strategy for your organisation to survive the turbulent business climate.

Strategic planning in the face of adversity presupposes abundance of hope and optimism duly tempered by a sense of realism about what’s happening in our socio-political and economic environment.

Just this morning, I saw in the news the IMF chief warning us about our world entering the “Great Recession”. The article[1] states: “Trade is forecast to fall to its lowest point in 80 years in 2009, as economic hardship ripples across the globe, the bank said. The ramifications of the growing financial crisis on the world’s poorest nations will likely remain for some time… because richer nations are borrowing more, developing nations are being squeezed out and many financial organisations that have provided financing to lower-income countries have virtually disappeared.”

In such a dramatic and alarming context, it becomes all the more important for business leaders to demonstrate flexibility and rigor to ride the proverbial storm which is causing despair among so many people.

Here is an example of a recent blog on Facebook, in which an acquaintance of mine, agreeing with Ardeshir Cowasjee’s views in the Dawn newspaper, concluded, “There is no hope and I doubt that I would ever see the change in my lifetime. The signs are becoming clear day by day. We are going towards what has been promised to us, THE END!!!!” He went on to say, “Our country needs a Godly Revolution. A handful of people have been ruling and deciding the fate for rest of the population. We as people and as a nation are responsible for it. We don’t raise our voice; we don’t stand up as a nation. Today, someone else is suffering – tomorrow it could be us.” If such despondency spreads throughout your organisation, it will spell disaster.

We are swamped by ‘bad’ news. Good deeds are by their very nature silent. What we usually hear and see in the news, day in and day out, are stories of endless feuds, crime, death and destruction, economic collapse and corruption. All this is true… but it only represents a small fraction of a large, but hidden truth. There are innumerable stories around the world of nobility, generosity and love… which rarely make it to the headlines.

Our great ancestors did not live in vain! There is hope, but only if we open our eyes to a larger reality and think beyond our own short life spans. Seeds of prosperity are being sown by people all the time, everywhere. Such people have belief in better times to come, in decades and centuries, if not in a few years from now.

In my view, what we are witnessing today is an arduous process of deconstruction all over the world. While this process may be slow and painful, it becomes a necessary condition for reconstruction to begin for the creation of a fair and just society, in which people have voice and dignity. Corporate leaders like you have a crucial role to play in this regard.

Our Future is what we make of it. But it is about probabilities. Rolling the dice to move forward is not advisable. None of us has a crystal ball. But one thing is clear, that it is in times of enormous adversity, when great leaders emerge. It is in such dysfunctional and challenging times that strategic planning becomes even more crucial. Put your mind to it and take responsibility in your sphere of influence.

As you already know, deliberate planning is an organisation’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy, including its capital and people. Various business analysis techniques[2] are be used in this effort, including SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological analysis) or STEER analysis (involving Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic, Ecological, and Regulatory factors) and EPISTELS (Environment, Political, Informatic, Social, Technological, Economic, Legal and Spiritual). Such tools come to nothing, if we remain ignorant of what’s happening around us.

Strategic planning is essentially commonsense when you consider that it involves determining where an organisation needs to go over the next year or more – typically three to five years, although some extend their vision to 20 years or more. In the process, at least one of three key questions below also comes into consideration:

1. “What do we do?”
2. “For whom do we do it?”
3. “How do we excel?”

The third question helps you differentiate yourself from your competition.

Strategic planning is not by itself a panacea for effectively plotting the direction of a company, as the process cannot foretell exactly how the market will evolve and what issues will surface in the coming days and months ahead. This calls for flexibility and rigor as a cornerstone of strategy for your organisation to survive the turbulent business climate.

Plans, no matter how well they are conceived, come to nothing if certain conditions are not met. Consider D.I.C.E[3], a tool I came across in an article in the Harvard Business Review recently. This tool serves as a useful guide to ensure success in implementing change initiatives. However, to me, it is equally valid, when considering achievement of desired outcomes in the execution of strategic plans.

According to the authors, DICE is a framework which allows companies to tap into the insight and experience of their employees. You also obtain a better sense of the challenge and build commitment to ensure that ends are achieved flawlessly through everyone’s willing contribution.

Extracts from the article are reproduced below:

“Too often, people responsible for executing plans lack the tools, the language, and the forums in which to express legitimate concerns about the design and implementation of plans and projects. That’s where a standard, quantitative, and simple framework comes in. By encouraging candid conversations at all levels within organisations, the DICE framework helps people to do what is needed.

The following four factors help determine the outcome of any strategic or transformative initiative:

Duration: The duration of time until the change program is completed if it has a short life span; if not short, the amount of time between reviews of milestones.

Ask: Do formal project reviews occur regularly? If the project will take more than two months to complete, what is the average time between reviews?

Integrity: The project team’s performance integrity; that is, its ability to complete the initiative on time. That depends on members’ skills and traits relative to the project’s requirements.

Ask: Is the team leader capable? How strong are the team members’ skills and motivation? Do they have sufficient time to spend on the change initiative?

Commitment: The commitment to change that top management and employees affected by the change display.

Ask: Do the senior executives regularly communicate the reason for the change and the importance of its success? Is the message convincing? Is the message consistent, both across the top management team and over time? Has top management devoted enough resources to the change program? Do the employees most affected by the change understand the reason for it and believe it is worthwhile? Are they enthusiastic and supportive or worried and obstructive?

Effort: The effort over and above the usual work that the change initiative demands of employees.

Ask: What is the percentage of increased effort that employees must make to implement the change effort? Does the incremental effort come on top of a heavy work-load? Have people strongly resisted the increased demands on them?”

After obtaining a good sense of your internal readiness to meet the challenges by using the DICE framework, you will be better able to proceed with cogent and innovative plans and strategies.

Have faith in people. They perform miracles when they are led in a way that inspires confidence. How you adapt your plans and behaviors in light of changing circumstances, while firmly pursuing your organisational goals, will determine your ultimate success. This calls for immense flexibility and rigor.

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