The rise of globalization and the speed of disruption has meant that getting strategy right the first time is now more important than ever. There is no longer any opportunity to correct and restart - the risk of being outflanked by a competitor is too great.
Despite this, many companies still get it wrong. We live in uncertain times, both in the wider sense of a tumultuous geopolitical climate and the narrower sense of technology constantly disrupting business. Strategy is not an exact science and developing and implementing one successfully is often like trying to hit a moving target. Over 50% of new businesses fail in the first five years. Meanwhile, in a recent survey by Strategy&, just 8% of the 700 business leaders who responded said they are effective at both planning and execution, with 63% admitting they are 'neutral or worse.'
There is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all approach to strategy, no set of rules to guarantee success. Every industry and every organization within that industry faces a myriad of problems entirely unique to them. There are, however, a number of ways of thinking applicable to every company that can form a foundation for an effective strategy.
We sat down with eight of the world’s leading strategists from some of the best known organizations to ask them what they believed these were.
Mark Sheppard, Chief Commercial Officer, GE
First and foremost, a successful business strategy must remain true to core company values, whilst still being adaptive and reactive to change. It is important not to stray too far from the pillars that are at the heart and the foundation of the company.
Consider the key value system of your organization. At GE, we play the global game locally and do it with unyielding integrity in all countries we operate in it's paramount to the way we work.
Secondly, flexibility is key in a successful business strategy. There is a fine balance between staying true to a strategy and taking time to see it through, versus being rigid in a changing world.
Clive Tillotson, Director of Business Operations & Strategy at Fujitsu
Your strategy has to be simple to execute (which is different from inherent simplicity) because that has to be done by overworked, practical people. It must also be seen as original (which is different to actually being original) otherwise, it will disappear into the heat and noise of the business. Finally, it has to be mandated and communicated into the business to the point where ignorance of the strategy is no excuse.
James Lemon, VP Commercial Strategy at Travelport
A view of what the industry and competitors are doing now and tomorrow; a clear vision that people know and believe in, driven by a set of choices, backed up with resources and investments, and last but not least, a plan to execute across all business units.
Ignaas Caryn, Director, Corporate Strategy at Air France-KLM
A good strategy should combine internal and external views, short-term improvements, long-term opportunities, and tackle organizational dynamics and resource allocation. As 'strategy without implementation is hallucination', a good strategy should include a clear implementation agenda and follow-up processes.
Joff Sharpe, Head of Operations at British Land
Strategies should explain the choices available, which particular choice appeals most and why. Too often business strategies give elaborate explanations of a particular course of action without acknowledging the alternatives.
David Cope, Director of Strategy & External Affairs at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Clarity of vision and purpose, alongside a thorough understanding of your distinctive strengths (and weaknesses), in comparison to others. Great communication and an ability to engage staff and stakeholders so that everyone wants to come on your journey with you. I believe the best strategy is a simple one in a complex world.
Jonathan Prosser, Group GM, Strategy & Business Development at Cronulla Sharks RLFC
Firstly, a real point of difference. For instance, take the banking sector in the UK three years ago. Several banks hired the same organizations to help drive the development of their strategies, and the result was a lot of 'man-marking'. Secondly, ensuring that the strategy is orientated around the customer, preferably with input from them is key. Take the guesswork out and ask for their views.
Erin Ilgen, Manager of Brand Experience at Lexus
I believe that a successful brand strategy needs to align with the values and beliefs of your company’s culture. It needs to authentically represent and affirm the characteristics and strengths of your business. In addition, the brand strategy needs to speak to your consumers. It needs to emotionally connect with them in a way that they believe that your brand is aligned with their needs, wants, and individual tastes.