As a business strategist who is embedded in many management teams at the same time, I have a unique vantage point into the current state of affairs in many businesses. I am in awe of our clients who put their employees first and managed the pandemic with empathy, grace and responsible governance. That said, I would also say that as a business culture, we have lost our way. We have become almost entirely short-term-oriented.
This course of events was predictable. It’s human nature that we tend to overreact, and the result is a pendulum swinging too far in either direction (as is the case in our political discourse). Over the last five years, our business culture swung to an agile way of thinking that promotes speed and adaptability. With that, many bought into a narrative that planning is a relic of past generations.
Market research feels too imprecise. Goals? We shouldn’t need those. Project management seems too structured. Strategic plan? Let me download a one-page template online. I shouldn’t have to do a budget; I’ve done nothing wrong.
We sure got lazy.
Agile, borne from software development, promotes building minimally viable products and iterating based on what you learn. But that doesn’t require less investment in time; it shifts the investment to a different time and place.
We can apply this thinking to strategy. It’s not that strategy and agile are in competition with each other–they should work as a counter-balance to promote the right blend of rigor and adaptability.
Here are five things we need to get our mojo back in building scalable, sustainable companies:
1. Reinforce your mission, values and vision.
These foundational elements should have been our true north during the pandemic. They are key components of scalability. To grow quickly requires that every person buy in to a purpose, so senior managers don’t have to make all the decisions.
2. Rebuild your long-term plan.
There’s one thing all large companies have in common: they were once small. One way they were able to grow was by identifying unique value, and creating capabilities to execute on a brand promise they delivered to customers. Along the way, mid-market companies hit a wall where scalability becomes impossible without structure.
I’m pretty sure Tesla requires a production schedule. Do we think Microsoft’s product roadmap is managed one quarter at a time? Does Amazon conduct some planning before entering a new market, or does it just start shipping and see how it goes? It’s well known that Jeff Bezos holds a strategy meeting every Tuesday. Long-range thinking is embedded in the Amazon culture, because to change the world requires an end game.
During the pandemic a lot of companies implemented collaboration software with almost no forethought. Today, many employees don’t know where to go for information.
When making key decisions, you should consider the alternative, stakeholders, timeline and budget–as in a mini business plan. This takes time and effort.
3. Create project management capabilities.
Covid-19 promoted more virtual working groups. Today we move faster, but we also tend to work in more cross-functional teams. In most companies, there are a vital few running projects because they are the ones who are good at it. Make sure your teams have project charters, visibility into big projects, and trained project managers who can deliver on time and on budget. Teach project management. It is an acquired skill.
4. Create financial discipline.
Another way we have become more nimble is by moving away from static goals, budgets and incentives to forecasts that change with time. Having a clear idea of our financial goals and the ability to track their progress is a critical capability, especially at times when cash is tight.
5. Build a system of measurement.
A key learning of work-from-home culture is that people need access to real-time information. It’s more important than ever that employees can see the numbers that drive their behavior. Having real-time dashboards and teaching people what the numbers mean drives decentralized decision making. Integration of systems is critical.
Companies must look for ways to provide an environment where employees can be the best version of themselves. That means providing freedom within structure. Make sure structure exists.