During the 2018 Chief Strategy Officer Summit, a group of approximately 160 strategy executives and professionals were challenged to imagine the future – one where “impossible” veggie burgers are appealing to meat eaters, where rocket ships can take passengers halfway across the world in 30 minutes, or where autonomous vehicles are a reality. There was a sense of optimism around these topics, and a consensus that yes, our world is moving in this direction. However, there was also a realism behind these discussions; only through disciplined decision making, honest internal evaluations, and smart adaptation of emerging technologies will this become our future.
Many sessions addressed the theme of transformation in a time of rapid change and development. Numerous presenters from companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, MGM Resorts, and Paramount Pictures told their personal stories of how they embraced change and reinvented their brands, missions, and products to respond to both present and anticipated disruption.
Over two days of sessions, several trends for successful strategic planning, design, and implementation emerged:
Disruption is hard. It’s uncomfortable. But it presents large opportunities for every organization. Of course, transformations do not happen overnight; they require time, effort, vision, and support. However, the downside for organizations that do not acknowledge the need for change is catastrophic. These organizations are ultimately met with irrelevancy, bankruptcy; companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, Borders. Instead, organizations must consider immediate, near-term, and future goals in the face of change: should new technologies be implemented? Can current teams solve these issues, or are mergers & acquisitions required? What can be done to differentiate product offerings? In all cases, organizations must evaluate whether new infrastructure or technology payouts are worth the inevitable struggles and costs of the change.
Engage in Disciplined Decision Making
We all have biases and blind spots. Even with the best intentions, we are prone to taking shortcuts. So, how can we overcome our humanity to implement the best strategy? A good general practice is to always be suspicious that there’s something better out there. Research and understand options, and be agile when the course changes. Our brains may want to shelter us from ego deflation, but this honest evaluation pays off: companies with strong decision discipline tend to have 6-7% ROI improvements on average versus companies with weaker decision discipline.
Link Strategy Design to Strategy Implementation
Strategy can only be successful when it permeates an entire organization. However, there is too often a gap between the design and the delivery of this strategy. In fact, 90% of senior executives say that they don’t meet their strategic goals, much of which is attributed to this disconnect.
For successful implementation, it is imperative to disseminate information and receive buy-in from those who act on the strategies. When front-line employees who implement the changes are not involved in the planning process, strategy executives can be viewed with contempt, making decisions “from their ivory towers.” Not only does this create unrest and dissatisfaction within an organization, but also increases the chances of failure.
MGM Resorts realized this issue, and promoted employee advocacy to realize its “one company, one culture” goal. MGM involved its employees (“change champions”) throughout the planning process for insights into the front-line mindset, and successfully received buy-in for implementation. This is now MGM’s standard practice, and an example that should considered by all organizations.
Know your Target Audience
This sentiment was reflected throughout the conference, including examples from the following companies:
Impossible Foods: pursued meat eaters versus vegetarians for their new meatless burger. Through years of scientific development, Impossible Foods created a more environmentally sustainable “burger” that uses 74% less water, 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 95% less land than typical burgers. However, if only vegetarians consumed this product, it wouldn’t change the environmental impact of meat. Impossible Foods had to convince meat eaters to trust this product. They started with reputable chefs who are known for meat, are beginning to target restaurants and chains, and ultimately rely on word of mouth. Today, over 75% of Impossible Foods’ consumers are meat eaters.
Fender: used data to understand how to better connect with its audience and increase sales. Through its research, Fender learned that over 90% of new guitar players quit within the first year. Fender embraced this information, and developed digital content to increase engagement and retention. Only after understanding reasons for abandonment was this change possible.
Strategy is an Ongoing Decision Process
Strategy should not be limited to a three-month planning process, and should instead be constantly evaluated, measured, and re-evaluated to ensure strategic goals are met.