Moving From Strategic Planning Towards Strategic Agility

Dec 18, 2015
7 Min Read

For decades, it has been common for organizations to dedicate significant time and resources into strategic planning processes. The objective was to establish goals and then create measurable, incremental steps to achieve them. In simpler times, this worked well.

But Justin Wasserman of Kotter International, who has led organizations across the globe towards accelerated business strategies, knows that today’s business environment requires a different perspective.

Wasserman says, “The windows of opportunity are opening and shutting much faster than they have before. The same goes for threats, whether it be new entrants into the market or new technology.”

Wasserman emphasizes that businesses must now operate in such a way that they are able to change directions very quickly: “If you want to stay competitive, or dare I say even relevant, it’s imperative that a business consciously cultivate a culture where speed and simplicity, and this notion of strategic agility, are a given.”

In other words, strategy needs to be moved from behind the desk to thinking on your feet. And it requires constant experimentation and innovation—as well as an environment that’s conducive to this kind of flexibility.

Note: Wasserman warns, “If you are aren’t strategically agile enough to be able to move at the drop of a hat, then how do you respond quickly enough to avoid that next big threat or seize that next big opportunity? How do you make that whole planning and execution process fluid?”

Lucky for us, Wasserman has three important tips to make your organization more agile.

Energize Your Team

If you want to be able to create new initiatives and kill off old ones quickly, you need to motivate stakeholders to value agility. Wasserman says one of the best ways to do this is to help them understand what Kotter International calls the Big Opportunity.

This involves helping your team see the important opportunities and threats facing your organization. When they see what’s at stake, it’s easier for them to embrace big-picture thinking and be willing to inconvenience themselves to step out of business as usual and change directions for the sake of the organization.

Invite Big Ideas

Traditional business was all about hierarchy and knowing your place. Wasserman believes that this type of thinking can hold your organization back.

While day-to-day operations must continue, he says it’s also important to create a corporate culture that welcomes big ideas from every person in the organization. According to Wasserman, “People are often sitting on the innovations at work, and no one has ever asked them about it. And they never felt like…they had permission to actually contribute to that thinking.”

Wasserman believes that strategizing should not be limited to people with the word “strategy” in their title. He said, “What we see is a ten-fold increase in innovation and speed when you actually create a permission for employees, regardless of where they sit in the organization, to really contribute their best thinking and start to work on ways to better a company.

“I have worked with teams all around the world where the individual on the team with the least amount of formal education, who was the lowest rung on the proverbial totem pole, contributed a multimillion-dollar breakthrough idea that no one ever cared to pay attention to, until we actually created a venue to bring together people’s best thinking.”

One way Kotter International invites big ideas is by promoting what they call a dual operating system. This means that rather than restructuring your whole organization, you create an internal parallel structure intended to bring together ideas from a cross section of your organization.

Kotter’s founder and namesake, John Kotter, highlights this idea in his latest book XLR8.

Celebrate Along the Way

Wasserman emphasizes that changing to a mindset of strategic agility is a marathon, not a sprint.

He points out that during marathons, no one waits until the 26th mile to cheer the runners on. Rather, there are crowds of encouraging spectators at every mile of the race.

Wasserman says that it’s important to help your stakeholders recognize and celebrate every stride they take. He encourages leaders to keep this in mind when they are trying to guide their organization forward.

In other words, don’t wait until your organization gets it perfect to recognize success. If you want to help stakeholders feel energized and eager to embrace agility, you need to celebrate the small wins.

Wasserman says, “When you create a sense of collective urgency around the importance of moving with speed and innovating, it becomes a much more exciting and popular place to work.”

Wasserman put it best: “Strategy isn’t a once-a-year exercise that gets stuck in a PowerPoint deck or relegated to a dusty shelf no one can reach. It’s constantly experimenting and innovating and using what’s happening in the real world."