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Embedding Speed and Agility into Strategy Execution

The pandemic exposed how organizations handle a major disruption. All struggled to some extent, but it’s worth asking: Why can some companies quickly adapt and accelerate new initiatives during times of change, and others barely get by?

Today, “resiliency” is a common answer. Too often, this means returning to practices that executive teams suspended or bypassed to survive. Going back to business as usual is grossly insufficient when change is constant.

To move fast during disruption, organizations must embed agility into strategy execution processes, creating the adaptability to deal with uncertainty as it occurs. Instead of reacting each time change happens, enterprises should proactively prepare to shift priorities and drive speed to outpace their competitors.

Benchmarking Strategy Execution

This year, a survey of nearly 1,000 global business and technology professionals uncovered how organizations are responding to change and what is making them successful (or not). The focus was speed and quality of outcomes.

The results revealed a significant gap between the leading, proactive companies (Strategy Execution Leaders) and two other categories: Challengers (moving forward but reactive to change) and Laggards (slower, often stalled). Stark differences exist among these categories’ culture, processes, and technology.

Going Faster, Further

The Strategy Execution Leaders are overcoming barriers and adapting more quickly to change (ranging from a global pandemic to competitive shifts to digital transformation) than their competitors. In fact, Leaders are three times more likely to exceed financial targets and strategic objectives than Challengers.

An unexpected finding was how far leaders are driving beyond resilience. Leaders prioritize speed and high performance and want to keep accelerating: nearly 90% want to make decisions and execute faster (a much higher percentage than Challengers and Laggards).

Leaders are making progress by investing in improving processes and technology. In addition, Leaders expect more benefits from these investments, such as improving customer and employee satisfaction and acquiring new customers.

Risks of Maintaining the Status Quo

Companies that fail to evolve for speed and agility face potential material impacts. The top risks cited by survey respondents are a decline in growth, lost opportunities to competitors, and decreased customer retention.

Despite these risks, Challengers and Laggards indicate less resolve to move faster. Sticking with the status quo may be easy, but at some point, the reactive approach to disruption wears an organization down. Survival by Herculean efforts and extraordinary moves doesn’t scale when changes are increasing in volume and velocity.

Executive teams that want to evolve understand this, but it’s difficult for them to pivot. Leaders from the study are demonstrating that companies can break out of old patterns and achieve high-quality outcomes by building speed and agility into their operations. So, what have they done to stand out from the pack?

Evolving Practices and Processes

Three best practices show how Leaders evolve beyond resiliency and deftly adapt to constantly changing business environments:

1. Plan more frequently and proactively: More than 60% of Leaders revise plans continuously or monthly, supporting rapid adaptation to change.

2. Apply lean and agile practices more broadly: More Leaders are driving a company-wide agile transformation, streamlining strategy execution for faster, higher-quality outcomes.

3. Use technology to inform decision making: Leaders have more access to real-time, accurate data and analytics, key to making complex decisions and pivots.

Employing these practices, Leaders have extreme confidence in doing the right work and delivering strategic initiatives on time (four times more than Challengers, and 18 times that of Laggards).

A New Approach to Strategy Execution

These best practices make an impact: Leaders are embedding speed and agility into their operations by making improvements across five interconnected areas of strategy execution:

• Pivoting strategies and plans
• Reallocating funding and budgets
• Reprioritizing work execution and delivery
• Realigning people and teams
• Accessing and analyzing data for decision making

Making swift, informed changes requires understanding the dependencies between these areas and the impacts of proposed decisions. For example, what are the cascading effects of moving a team to newly prioritized work?

The right technology connects strategic planning and work execution to provide this visibility and analyses. Leaders are seeking solutions that bring together executive line of sight, adaptive prioritization and funding, flexible resource planning, and capabilities like scenario planning.

The Fallacy of Resiliency

While 2020 was a wake-up call for many companies, it’s what these companies do now that may determine long-term growth. The choice is clear: Rewire for speed and flexibility, or be “resilient” by reverting to the old business playbook.

Will your company embrace uncertainty or brace for the next impact of the unknown? Resiliency is a relapse companies cannot afford to make.

Harvard Business Review
By Linda Roach, Director, Solutions Marketing, Planview

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