Strategising in mutable business scenarios

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My previous post regarding strategic mobilisation triggered people’s curiosity about the tool and the principles I introduced in that text. I have received many messages asking for more details and information. Inspired by these positive comments and requests, I explore further in this blog post the implications of strategising in dynamic and mutable scenarios.

The ability to navigate in fast-changing contexts is an essential skill for developing successful strategies, and many clever people have studied how to manage complex, volatile and uncertain scenarios. Thus, there is rich research, experiment and theorising occurring in these fields. I don’t aim to make this blog any kind of scientific article; my intention is to share some ‘lessons from the trenches’ about navigating mutable business situations.

First things first: What does mutable mean in the context of corporate business strategy?

Avoiding the temptation to use fancy scientific language, let’s stick to a simple definition for this key concept. According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘Mutability’ isthe ability to change or of being likely to change. To be honest, we don’t need to theorise much further than that to understand what we must do to navigate this type of scenario.

Based on this definition, I am experiencing several different mutable situations in my own daily life as an executive. Here are some examples of high mutable situations that I face regularly: 

  • Competitors’ moves
  • Changes in client structures and roles 
  • Team composition 
  • Unwanted staff turnover
  • Impact of corporate decisions on employees’ intrinsic motivators 
  • Client’s individual needs and requirements 
  • New demands
  • Revenue performance
  • Stock moves in global markets 

Importantly, being mutable doesn’t mean being out of control or chaotic. It’s a simple acknowledgment that one can’t always predict when and how something may change. There are things in business less mutable, for sure. I will tackle these particular scenarios in future blogs; right now I’m focusing on how to deal with mutable things in this text.

Keep options open  – and your organisational senses

Strategising is about making choices. In business, strategy is a continual process of formulating options and choosing the right one for a given situation.    

We can consider different heuristics, or the simple rules people use for facilitating the decision process, when making choices. However, sometimes our choices are not right, even when we have all the information we need, or when we have had previous experience in similar circumstances. The likelihood of being wrong is high when we operate in dynamic situations, as the parts are always moving and creating non-linear connections. 

The illusion of being right can harm good strategy development. Awareness of the possibility of being wrong is the paradox of succeeding in business (I learned that lesson in the worst possible way many years ago). That is why companies must have a management system capable of sensing when a chosen option is not the right one, to respond quickly to formulate or adapt other options in a particular situation.

Shortening the feedback cycle about business performance is a key ingredient to deal with mutable and dynamic scenarios. It’s not about adopting any particular framework or method; it is about the attitude of continually planning, learning and adjusting the route when necessary. 

Merging strategy and execution

The separation between strategy and execution is probably where the biggest misunderstanding in the management field occurs. I’m not saying companies shouldn’t have hierarchical structures; I’m acknowledging that there is no difference between strategy and execution from a practical point of view.

Strategy continues to happen throughout execution. Strategy is not just about creating plans and stratagems. It is about making the best decisions possible based on known and unknown events. In this case, there are moves we can prepare for in advance, and there are other moves we will only discover when a new circumstance arises. For this reason, strategy should be a continual and distributed process in companies, and it is the best instrument for navigating dynamic and mutable contexts.

Here are some tips for merging strategy and execution, humbly offered:

  • Adopt short cycles for creating and reviewing strategic moves
  • Talk about strategy every day, not just once a year
  • Think about strategy with everyone in your environment, not only with the leaders
  • Democratise relevant data and information to empower people to evolve the strategic drivers
  • Don’t make the plan the protagonist while you are still creating, reviewing and adapting the strategy
  • Keep the strategic process simple and accessible – you don’t need a PhD from a prestigious university to develop winning strategies.

Now it’s your turn

I’ll share more of my experiences about strategy and management systems in forthcoming texts. In the meantime, I invite you to reflect deeply on whether you are developing suitable strategies for navigating mutable environments by acknowledging that you can’t predict and control all the outcome of your strategic moves. For me, this is the most valuable takeout message. 

Some relevant references:

Lafley, A.G.; Martin, Roger; Martin, Roger L.. Playing to Win . Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Lustig, Patricia. Strategic Foresight: Learning from the Future . Triarchy

Press. Kindle Edition. Mitchell, Melanie. Complexity. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

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