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The Importance of Strategic Agility

Strategic agility

Corporate lifespans are shrinking dramatically. Back in 1958 the average tenure of a company on the S&P 500 was sixty-one years. It dropped to twenty-five years by 1980. Today it’s down to just eighteen. Those numbers demonstrate that growth and sustainability are not guaranteed in today’s warp speed, hyper-competitive global economy. Back in the relatively stable 1950s, organizations could perhaps afford to create a “set it and forget it” strategy that would pay dividends over years, if not decades. Not so today.

The modern enterprise, locked in a constant battle for competitive advantage, must embrace the concept of strategic agility. This entails contemplating and revising its strategy frequently, based on constant sensing and rapid adaptation to stimuli in its competitive orbit. Try these tips to improve your strategic agility.

  1. Use the wisdom of the crowd
    At the end of the day, your senior leadership must assume the responsibility for crafting the organization’s strategy. However, this responsibility doesn’t mean they are omniscient beings blessed with a crystal ball showing the future in perfect detail. Given the tools available to even small organizations today, you should tap the wisdom of all employees — especially those close to customers — to glean their insights as to the best strategic directions to follow. One simple tool to employ is a “strategy jam.” Create a page on your intranet to collect strategy ideas and invite employees to contribute during a defined period of time — the “jam.” Collect the ideas and use them as raw materials when crafting strategy.
  2. Explain the importance of strategy
    As noted above, in most organizations strategy setting is the exclusive purview of the leadership team. Therefore, many employees will ignore the concept altogether, assuming strategy is something that is created behind closed boardroom doors that will ultimately bear little relevance for their day-to-day actions. In today’s world nothing could be further from the truth. Every employee, especially those deemed as “knowledge workers,” must understand that they play a key role in gathering strategic information and feeding it up the ladder so that it can be assimilated quickly and translated into action. The old paradigm of holding a town hall meeting to announce your three- or five-year strategy to a less-than-enthusiastic audience of overwhelmed employees is dead. You must communicate both the importance of strategy and your specific priorities constantly to ensure all employees recognize it as a core part of their job.
  3. Embrace the lean revolution
    The concepts of lean management, exemplified by the Toyota Production System, have gained traction, and demonstrated benefits, in virtually all industries. If your goal is to introduce agility into your strategy process, facilitating possible changes in product and service mix, methods of distribution, and so on, you must ensure all downstream processes in your organization are themselves agile and lean — always adding value for customers while eliminating waste. There are many excellent books, white papers, and conferences celebrating the lean movement, thus a good first step is to simply learn more about the fundamentals of the topic and how it may be applied effectively in your own organization.

How often do you update your strategic plan? Depending on the life cycle of your industry, if it’s more than two years, it may be too infrequent. We’ll leave you with the guidance of strategy and change guru John Kotter:

Companies used to reconsider their strategies only rarely. Today any company that isn’t … constantly adjusting to changing contexts — and then quickly making significant operational changes is putting itself at risk … Strategy should be viewed as a dynamic force that constantly seeks opportunities.

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves!


Corporate life span statistics from Clark Gilvert, Matthew Eyring, and Richard N. Foster, “Two Routes to Resilience,” Harvard Business Review, December 2012.

Kotter quote: From Harvard Business Review.

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