The Art and Science of Strategy

Adapting to an Upside-Down World


The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change.” He was pointing to the rather obvious fact that our world is in a state of continuous motion. And at times like we’re experiencing now, the process of everlasting change becomes unmistakably clear.

However, in what many consider more “typical” economic conditions (although there’s really no such thing), it’s easy to ignore the fact that nothing ever stays the same. For instance, we believe that our customers will call because that’s what they’ve always done. We believe that our suppliers will always be there for us because they have been in the past. And we believe that growth is inevitable because it’s what our history has told us to expect.

As you are no doubt painfully aware, current economic realities demonstrate that what we believe and what we hope for are often disconnected from the reality we experience. For the most part, success in life is about effectively adapting to a never-ending series of changes. Life teaches us that success is not guaranteed to those who work the hardest (as any rodent on a wheel will quickly tell you); rather, it is more likely to be realized by those who work the smartest. So, how can we work smarter to navigate the challenging waters in which we find ourselves? How do we manage to succeed in an environment where customer demand is going in the wrong direction, and the possibility of recovery is still somewhat distant and uncertain?

Five Key Factors to Improve Your Success in the Midst of Uncertainty

  • Desire. Nothing happens without it. Desire is the starting point and the fuel that allows people (and organizations) to achieve things they never thought possible. It is the ingredient that allows some businesses to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It is the pool of energy from which these businesses draw their strength. Desire keeps them moving forward while creating the focus and energy to manage change in a deliberate and accepting way. So check your desire factor. Do you have the desire to change, grow and adapt as circumstances dictate?
  • Knowledge. When was the last time you made an important decision without having enough information to support it? And how did that work out? Occasionally, luck acts in our favor and things do work out, but smart businesspeople know better than to test fate on a regular basis. Statistically speaking, actions taken without sufficient knowledge set the stage for poor—if not disastrous—results. A less-than-solid understanding of our customers, competitive environment, strategic options or operational weaknesses significantly compromises our ability to achieve our highest goals. Do you have the proper systems and people in place to gather the information needed for effective decision making?
  • Vision. Vision and desire are inextricably linked. While desire provides the impetus to move forward, vision creates the pathway to reach that desired future. Without a clear and present vision, it’s hard to know what’s really important. If we’re not careful, we can allow our immediate but less important priorities to become overwhelmingly urgent. A strong vision provides a structured context for our day-to-day decision making and heightens the probability that today’s choices will go a long way toward creating tomorrow’s successes. Do you have a strong, shared and well-articulated vision for your organization?
  • Planning. A vision is just a dream without a plan to support it. An article in Fortune magazine demonstrated that many CEOs lose their jobs not for lack of vision, but for their failure to translate that vision into actionable activities and measurable outcomes. While a strong vision of the future is a necessary starting point, a detailed road map is essential for the successful implementation and execution of your strategy. Unless you’ve created a clear and understandable plan, chances are your people will lose their way and fail to focus their energies on more critical priorities. Do you have a strong plan to guide your organization and optimize the use of available resources?
  • Measurement and Follow-up. Good leaders and managers understand the importance of measuring plan effectiveness and making course corrections as conditions warrant. Because conditions are constantly changing, your plan—whether strategic or operational—needs to change and adapt as well. A seemingly ideal plan is only as good as the day it is written. Ongoing changes in your competitive and industry environment create the need to evaluate progress regularly and make course corrections routinely. Do you have a viable measurement and review system in place?

Of course, these are only a few of the ingredients necessary to survive and prosper in a competitive and constantly changing environment. However, our experience at Strategy Partners demonstrates that they are among the most important.

So, if change is inevitable, what is your attitude toward it? Do you have the desire and energy to overcome the cycle of change in your industry? Are you using the management and leadership tools at your disposable to leverage your opportunities and build an organization that is resilient, focused and adaptable? It should be obvious that the most successful companies going forward will be those that adapt and evolve within this changing milieu. The important question is, will yours be one of them?

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