Unstrategy and the last mile of change

We work in a market where the distance between an organisation and its customers is literally one social media post away, and where an organisation’s best offer can be beaten by a fifteen second search online for the next best alternative. In a market where distance and time is now on the customer’s side and the pace of change is exponential, it begs the question – is the relevance of traditional strategy under threat at a time when you could argue it is needed the most?

It was once the organisation that decided how a customer would engage with it; today customers are the designers of their own experience, interchanging brands, services and products based on the context and needs they have at any particular moment. When you are facing change of this nature and magnitude, intimacy with the customer is potentially the only hope of staying relevant.  But too often traditional strategy is developed at a lofty distance from the richness of insight that the customer can bring.  This distance is in turn exacerbated by time horizons of execution that simply don’t meet the pace of change the customer is moving at.

It is this simple equation – “distance and time” – that is threatening the relevancy of good strategy, at a time when you could argue we need it most.

Having been a strategy consultant for many years, I cannot help but feel that the traditional mindset on how to approach strategy is not changing quickly enough to meet the new demands of the market we all operate in.   Below are four ideas on how to shift this mindset to realise more relevant and impactful strategies for growth.

Unpack the method

Often a change in process is one of the easiest ways to change behaviour.  If we think then about traditional methods of strategy, there are some very practical and real ways to change the steps in the process for improving both distance and time to the customer.

Here are four ways to change process that can have a real impact:

  1. Shift the act of hypothesis setting one or two steps down the process. 
    Hypothesis setting in times of rapid change is too assumptive, lacks the spirit of exploration and relies too heavily on history as its guide.  Start instead with the act of context setting, with a very well framed problem that provides the freedom to explore.  And make it personal to the market you seek to understand.
    Replace phrases like “Competitors will, we will, the market will, we should, we can” with “how might we, what are the, where is the, what can we learn from”.  It seems subtle but it will have a profound impact on the mindset of how strategy is approached and allow for the act of exploration.
  1. Change the approach taken to data gathering.  
    I would hazard to suggest that the majority of the data used in defining strategy is historical in its insight.  Desktop research on market growth rates, prior performance, forecast growth, and competitor analysis is no longer sufficient in preparing an organisation for a future market that is still defining itself.  Shift the balance so that you are gathering new insight:

    • Marry segmentation analysis this with ethnographic enquiry into the market to glean new insights into how consumers are adapting their behaviours.
    • Couple desktop market research with interviews with real subject matter experts, organisations both local and global, and your own talent base to tap into the future changes they predict, rather what we know to be true today.
    • Don’t limit your perspectives on data.  The analysis of data should be seen as a creative process and used to fuel strategic innovation.  Social analytics, behavioural analytics, value chain and pricing analytics – a creative mindset to how you apply these techniques will reveal strikingly different insights if you allow them to.
  1. Unleash the conversations
    Having adapted the process the next important change in behaviour is changing the engagement model.  The first important aspect of unleashing the conversation is having it with the customer.  There is a big difference between a strategy “designed with the customer in mind” to one “designed for the customer”. The second is having it with the business.  This is more than interviewing some business stakeholders upfront and then returning at the back end to inform them on completion of what the strategy is. It is about a continuous conversation – a regular recurring meeting in the diary that is content rich, that connects the business to the insights you are gathering so that they can contribute their collective thoughts, ideas, expertise and pragmatism.  Don’t limit yourself here to the obvious stakeholders either – think creatively about tapping into the broader expertise in the organisation, and address diversity as a conscious criteria for inclusion.
  2. Unlock the narrative
    Different to a story that has a beginning and an end, a narrative creates a call to action that involves and evolves with the market, engaging communities of creativity to build out its journey.  Apple’s call to action – “Think Differently” is a case in point example of defining a narrative for change that is intended as much for the market as it is the organisation.
    This narrative is a far cry from the way strategy is communicated today and indeed from the way in which it is executed on.   What if you took your strategy off the power-point deck and translated it into a narrative to engage your market in what you are trying to achieve?   Then, even more radical, what if you put aside the pre-ordained roadmap and set of initiatives and provided the freedom for creativity to surface on how best to realise the strategy across your organisation and the market?

These four changes – unlocking the process, unlocking the data, unlocking the conversation and unlocking the narrative of strategy can go a long way to helping solve for the dilemma of “distance and time”.  Most importantly it can re-gain the rightful role strategy needs to play for helping the organisation navigate the pace of change which is now a matter of course for every business.

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