As just about every business book currently written will tell you, the pace of change in today’s business environment is greater than it has ever been. But that has been true for decades – for a long time, the ‘current’ environment has been more dynamic than ever before. What is different in today’s business world is the pervasiveness of that dynamism. Now it is not just so-called disrupted industries or single elements of your business that are being impacted by the pace of change. It’s happening everywhere, in every industry and at every level of your business.
The rules are changing because waiting to react to your environment puts you perilously behind in a race that punishes those who can’t maintain the pace. The question now is not ‘How do I keep up?’ but ‘How do I focus on the future so that I am leading from the front, driving change instead of responding to it?’.
The answer is strategy – but strategy redefined. Strategy that is imbued with action. Strategy that is adaptive. Strategy that connects your organisation to its realisation. Strategy that has life!
It used to be that businesses were either ‘growing or dying’ but in today’s world they are either ‘evolving or declining’.
In today’s dynamic world, strategy needs to be a continuous process of re-shaping your business for a future you want to create. It’s no longer about creating a strategic plan and executing it. Effective strategic-making means consistently and persistently counteracting the disruptive forces and actively seizing the emerging opportunities that exist within your business environment.
It is no longer good enough to do what you’ve always done and make it bigger, or do it more productively. Now you must evolve what you do – what you make – as the market and the environment changes.
Businesses no longer resemble large machines in which your people are merely cogs – cogs that just need to know which way to turn, possessing no more strategy than knowing they are meant to mesh with adjacent cogs.
The modern enterprise is more akin to a large, complex biological organism whose interdependencies and interactions are understood far better by the people within it than by the brain that controls it. Your people need to be intentionally engaged in strategy-making if you want to create the adaptation that spawns evolution.
Projectifying your strategic activities is the most effective means of evolving your organisation at the pace of the change you are trying to respond to.
At the heart of business evolution is the need to link strategy with your two most important relationships – the one with your people and the one with your customers. A project mindset allows you to ‘hardwire’ strategic intent to the reality of the operational frontlines.
By developing and selecting the right strategic projects, you create the ability to respond to change in a rapid and targeted way. You unlock opportunities to maximise the experience for your customers and use customer experience to inform strategic direction.
The strategic improvement projects we’re talking about are not big transformational undertakings. These projects are developed to address specific improvement opportunities that serve your overarching strategic direction and have very specific attributes:
- Short-duration, hard-hitting activities
- Target a specific strategic outcome
- Undertaken by a small cross-functional team with the greatest knowledge about the improvement opportunity being pursued
- Prioritised based on their business value
The final, most important step is to select the projects that you are doing at any given time based on their priority and your capacity to devote your full attention to their completion.
Projects connect an organisation’s leaders with its people, giving employees the power to make a meaningful difference to the business they serve.
When leaders become intrigued by the idea of projectifying their strategic activity, the first question is – how? How do I instil a project mindset across my organisation?
Certainly, building strategic activity into your organisation‘s operational routine takes effort. It requires a shift in thinking – both for yourself and your enterprise. But by projectifying this shift, it happens progressively. It doesn’t have to turn your operational world upside down or consume the entire leadership bandwidth of your management team.
To shift our strategic endeavours from a process of perpetual planning to one of adaptation and growth, you need to start by understanding there are three keys to strategic performance:
- Empower your team – create freedom and autonomy in the way your people work together
- Follow the framework – establish business practices and systems that enables strategic work to happen in a structured and continuous way
- Share your purpose – align the entire organisation on what represents value for the business, its customers and the people in the business.
Key influences on strategic performance
Importantly, these three influences are always impacting your ability to make meaningful strategic progress. You don’t get to choose whether they’re influencing your strategic impact – they’re always either a positive or negative influence. The choice you make as a leader is to maximise the positive aspects of these influences.
To be nimble enough to successfully evolve with today’s pace of change, you can’t afford to be incremental (or sequential) about engaging your employees, improving the business, and building new capabilities.
You need to do all three at the same time. Projectifying strategic improvement layers these three areas of developmental activity, each building upon the others to continuously shape your business for the future you hope to create. When strategic execution starts to become part of what people see as their day-to-day roles:
- The organisation’s work becomes better connected to your business purpose and has forward momentum, rather than being mired in faithfully reproducing the best of the past.
- You add depth to the information that informs your strategic thinking and direction. Improvement projects undertaken by the people on the frontline of creating customer value inform strategic direction in ways that marketing analysis never can.
- You begin to leverage the capabilities and diversity of skills and experience across your entire organisation to drive strategic development. Done well, your workplace culture becomes the engine room of strategic activity, rather than the resistance you are trying to manage.
That’s where you create a thriving, sustainable enterprise that doesn’t just adapt to any business environment, but prospers.
This article is an edited extract of Projectify – How to use projects to engage your people in strategy that evolves your business by Jeff Schwisow.