Speed, Flexibility Are Keys to Success for the New Corporate Strategy Department


Today’s corporate strategy department is always on the lookout for potential game-changers, and has to be prepared to move quickly to outflank competitors, both traditional and disruptive. Otherwise, their business will lose competitive edge and market share.

These groups are expected to lead a company’s growth through innovation and competitive expansion, a tough proposition in the best of times. Once, your prime competitor might be a large, slow-moving brick-and-mortar company. Today, your entire approach could be disrupted by a young mother working from a laptop on her kitchen table.

For example, take the case of Research in Motion, whose BlackBerry dominated the market for mobile phones. Confident that its customers valued security above all else, RIM initially dismissed the threat of smartphones. By the time it recognized the market’s shift, Apple and Samsung had disrupted the space and captured the lion’s share of buyers. With a loyal user base and a strong hold in the enterprise market, RIM had a shot at a comeback, but repeated delays in developing its own smartphone pushed it from its spot as an industry leader to a secondary player whose survival is questionable.

With technology evolving ever more quickly and globalization constantly expanding the competitive landscape, corporate strategy departments need to operate quickly and flexibly. They must embed these qualities into everything they do, so that they can innovate, grow, and own both existing and new markets. How do they do it? 

Accept change as the norm. Let’s admit it: The days of the five-year strategic plan are over. Companies need a long-term goal and a vision for getting there – while understanding that the market is in constant motion and so is their strategy. Be willing to consider new options and new possibilities frequently, and be ready to adapt to new realities quickly.

Build escape routes into your strategy. While you can’t predict the future, you can plan for it. So build the potential for change into your strategies. Create alternate scenarios and contingency plans for each aspect of your approach. And don’t be afraid to rewrite the plans completely.

Create a nimble infrastructure. Set up your team and processes so that options can be swapped at a moment’s notice. Evaluate your company’s resources and in-house talent. Do you know who can be shifted into a new position quickly? Where are the strengths and the weaknesses in your execution process? Do you have tools, databases, and external resources that can be activated immediately?

Test drive your ideas. Many companies choose to experiment before fully committing to new ideas. It’s a more aggressive way of conducting market research, and it helps answer fundamental questions before requiring a full commitment to a new strategy. Is there really a market for this product? Can you build the right capabilities to make it work? How far off are your cost projections? If the test shows promise, you’re ahead because you’ve already started to build the foundation. If it fails, it fails with minimal investment.

Rent, don’t buy. Corporate strategy departments often look to their own executives to lead initiatives. But your in-house talent may not have the bandwidth or the expertise to develop new product lines or open new divisions. While the impulse is often to hire a full-time leader to oversee a test or launch, often it makes more sense to “rent” your talent. A senior independent consultant with deep experience with just the types of projects you’re about to execute can be a cost- and time-effective solution. Drawing on their years of experience, they’re not afraid to make decisions and take action. With no learning curve required, independent consultants can be smart hires.

Plan for emergencies. Agile corporate strategy departments are comfortable with Murphy’s Law. Something is going to go wrong. New regulations can create short-term, high priority projects and put long-term strategies at risk. A new executive turns out to be a bad fit, but the initiative he was brought in to lead can’t be slowed or halted. This makes having a steady pipeline of talent on-demand a smart move.

The world isn’t going to slow down. But by building speed and flexibility into your plan, team and resources, you’ll have the tools and abilities you need to deal with rapid change and disruption. You can get on with what corporate strategy departments do best: create growth for your organization.


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