Flexibility is not strategy (part 1)

23 04 2009

You can’t focus on everything and succeed.  Obvious, right?  Clearly if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there (in this case, all roads do not lead to Rome).

No person or company knowingly decides to be everything to everyone.  But that’s exactly what happens when you can’t choose (and stick to) a specific goal.

Banking on flexibility is tantamount to saying yes to everything.

While it’s OK to be open to possibilities, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between distraction and opportunity.  Opportunity’s transient nature can lead you to chase every possible direction until you forget who you are and how you got there.

You may ask yourself, “how did I get here?”

Some companies end up backing into disperse activities through growth or acquisitions.  Acquisitions can bolster a product portfolio in an unusual direction which deviates from the company’s core competency and tenets.  Unless the company consciously adopts a new strategy.

Organic, unconscious growth (i.e. everyone’s too busy to look where they’re going) can also scatter objectives in hundreds of micro-directions that can’t be executed in a timely fashion.

Unconscious growth can bewilder a company that started with a small, shared, synchronized pool of DNA and direction.  As that core DNA becomes more distributed and sparse, small changes in individual direction lead to a significant cumulative effect.  The passage of information through an organically growing company becomes less structured and more like a game of telephone.

Identifying “the most important thing” for a company to do becomes more difficult as the original intent of a company gets diluted (or goes unreinforced), more voices arise, and input information streams increase.

Progress’ inexorable march

Integrating an acquisition or making significant product improvements will be a test of leadership.  Ultimately prioritization along a direction will result in more opportunities being unveiled, but there may be many obstacles and tests along the way.

Dispersion of direction and resource fragmentation inside a company can resemble a mix of Brownian motion and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  Lots of work is going on, but it’s hard to quantify.

Everyone knows what’s important, right?

If flexibility has been your strategy up to now, choosing or changing a direction will be unpopular.  By now, everyone has developed a subjective view of company priorities.  If you think everyone shares a tacit single version of the truth about the company’s objectives and core competencies, you might be in for a surprise if you ask around.

Representing all points of view is impossible – again, flexibility is not strategy.  However ignoring everyone’s alternate priorities will not win the day either.

Remember that teams that have veered off course probably did so thinking they were, in fact, acting in the company’s best interest.

Open communication

Internal visibility and honesty are key elements of creating real strategy.  If the executive leadership can “see” what the current state of affairs are on both sides of the fence, decisions will be informed.  Everyone has to put their cards on the table.  That’s not easy.

Companies change over time.  Strategy is the most important element of a company’s survival in any environment.  It requires time, dedication, and an honest evaluation of the company’s strengths and weaknesses.  It can be hard, ugly, or fun, but no one is too busy to participate.

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2 responses

1 05 2009
Flexibility is not strategy (part 2) « Spackle

[…] is not strategy (part 2) 29 04 2009 I mentioned that by remaining open to everything, you risk accomplishing nothing.  The resulting dispersion of resources and effort can cause paralysis (or perceived stasis in […]

22 05 2009
Flexibility is not strategy (part 3) « Spackle

[…] hard to grow from core competencies without a reference point.  If you think everyone “knows what the company is good at doing”, you’re […]

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