Many companies operate in industries where threats and opportunities can appear quickly, with little advance warning, often creating vexing strategic choices. With a steady stream of unpredictable and complex business challenges, it is not surprising that there is minimal enthusiasm for a traditional, plodding, highly structured annual strategic planning process. To survive and thrive in these highly dynamic business environments, a company’s ‘strategic agility’ becomes a critical competency.
Most companies don’t fail because they do the wrong things. Failure, or just plain lackluster performance, is usually the result of doing what used to be the right things for far too long. Having strategic agility is not just about being quick, responsive or nimble. It is also about having a heightened level of strategic alertness. To be strategically agile, a company must have the ability and capacity to synthesize and assess various pieces of information from multiple sources to identify what is truly relevant. However, in a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment, the timeliness of assembling and addressing relevant intelligence is also essential.
There are three main pillars to strategic agility:
- Strategic Insight – the ability to see and frame opportunities and threats in a timely manner. Beyond having the resources available to capture and analyze relevant information, it is equally important that key decision makers who are readily accessible and willing to take the time to address these situations appropriately.
- Resource Flexibility – a fast and efficient means to mobilize and/or redeploy resources within an organization. Identifying what needs to be done is simply not enough if you cannot get or allocate the necessary resources to get it done . Unfortunately, many organizational and cultural constraints may exist that hinder resource flexibility. Even a small amount of resource flexibility will enhance a company’s strategic agility.
- Leadership Unity – the collective commitment and shared values of the key decision makers within the organization. Agility requires high-quality constructive internal dialogue, a willingness and ability to make decisions and take informed risks in a timely manner (often without complete information). Moreover, this needs to be done consistently without getting caught-up in a ‘win/lose’ political game among senior leaders.
Success in today’s business environment requires an ability to continuously adjust and adapt strategic direction. Longer-range planning still has a place in setting the stage to position a company for success down the road; it just needs to be properly balanced with the strategic agility necessary to address rapidly emerging opportunities or threats in a timely fashion.