The digital revolution is changing our world at a pace we’ve never experienced. Over the past 10 years, we’ve witnessed the rapid creation of billion-dollar companies like Airbnb and Hulu, and previously-unheard-of jobs like app developer and podcast producer. In this environment, it might seem as though business strategies have a short shelf life, since it’s incredibly hard to plan beyond a year or two with any certainty.  Now let’s add in a global pandemic.  

As a leader, how do you develop and implement dynamic business strategies that keep up with the pace of change today and such a large amount of uncertainty?
 

Debate Assumptions

It’s no longer enough to build a strategy, present and implement it and then check back in a couple of years to see how it’s going. 

Debate AssumptionsA more effective approach might be to create an “intended” strategy for the next 12 months – and make sure you have the flexibility and courage to adjust that strategy based on what emerges throughout the year.  Constantly engage and listen to ongoing feedback in order to measure, learn and adjust as you go. 

I’m not saying that every development should cause a change in your strategy. React only to those things that truly challenge or discredit your business assumptions. Of course, if you don’t understand the specific assumptions that went into your strategy, it will be hard for you to know when to react to changes in the market.

That’s why it’s critical to debate assumptions together with your team without judgment at the start of the process, and to focus on the most important drivers.

Customers

  • Who is buying from you and why do they buy? What are your customers’ current and future pain points and do your solutions address those challenges? Are your customers satisfied? Loyal? 
  • Loyal customers buy more from you and provide referrals. Even though all relationships — even those with loyal customers — have their ups and downs, your reaction during the low points will shape those relationships and build longevity. By identifying the short-term and long-term risks in each relationship, you can focus on areas of opportunity to strengthen bonds with customers.

Solutions  

  • What are your customers buying from you and how do they consume it? Are you fairly pricing your solutions for the delivered value?  What is the competitive landscape? Do you understand your place in the market — both your strengths and challenges?  Do you understand the capabilities that make up your products and services?  
  • When the market changes, we sometimes incrementally improve products instead of stepping back and looking through the product or service. By evaluating the underlying capabilities, we can potentially identify opportunities to combine capabilities and build completely new solutions or enter new markets.

Workforce 

  • Your workforce is your most valuable asset as an organization. Do you understand the “social contract,” the relationship your company has with its employees? 
  • Happy employees translate to happy customers, and happy customers translate into profits. But if employees don’t feel valued, they may move on, taking their domain expertise (and maybe some of their coworkers) with them. 
  • It’s never been more important to debate assumptions about your workforce because your strategy is irrelevant without them. Just as we’ve developed a focus on “customer value propositions” in the last two decades, the next 20 years will be about “employee value propositions.”  This is the age of the employee – don’t make the mistake of underestimating that.

Culture 

  • Culture is the way people in your company interact with one another. Culture is human, dynamic and driven by leaders’ core values and beliefs. People treat others the way they are treated. With that in mind, do you have policies and procedures that instill a sense of belonging and/or trust? Do you have a future-focused culture? 
  • Imagine a workplace culture that connects people and unlocks their collective intelligence, rather than one that isolates them performing a given task or worse, pits them against one another. Envision a culture that builds bridges, not silos, to get work done efficiently within teams and across the organization. These are the opportunities a future-focused culture creates.   

If you don’t understand the specific assumptions that went into your strategy, it will be hard for you to know when to react to changes in the market.

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By debating assumptions before you build your business strategy and using that open dialogue with your team to set goals, you should generate the necessary buy-in to build and execute the plan, as well as agreement on the metrics for success. What are the expectations? What are the options for building an action plan? 

This type of candid dialogue also creates a forum for people to openly share the challenges they face as these assumptions are executed in the real world. When everyone owns the strategy, it becomes dynamic, flexible, and adaptable — qualities you need to succeed in the digital age.

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