Business Leaders Know The Answers – They Just Can’t Unlock Them

Knowing you need to change is not the same as knowing how.          

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Knowing you need to change is not the same as knowing how.          


Business Leaders Know The Answers – They Just Can’t Unlock Them

Knowing you need to change is not the same as knowing how.          

Share this article

As part of its recent 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC found that around 40% of execs thought they’d be out of business within ten years if they continued on their current path. That’s 40% of business leaders willing to admit they need to create real organisational change.

But knowing you need to change is not the same as knowing how.

Getting buy in from the whole business

One significant barrier to identifying and pursuing a new strategic direction is the need to align key players behind a common goal.

Here’s an all-too-common scenario.

The marketing team is under pressure to drive customer acquisition. The product team is evolving the offer rapidly to stay ahead of the competition. The IT team is under pressure to deliver more with less – or, more generally, to deliver against the ongoing digital transformation journey. The C-suite, meanwhile, is busy looking outside the business for clues to future direction.

Everyone’s looking for an answer. But nobody’s talking to each other.

Bringing in big-name specialist business consultants to provide strategic direction can certainly provide access to fine and well-trained brains. But there are three key problems with outsourcing this need.

First, much of the consultancy’s considerable fee is devoted to getting up to speed. We sometimes hear grumbles from our own clients about the time devoted to discovery on a brand project. Happily, these soon fade: we pride ourselves on getting to actionable insights quicker than most.

Second, and more tellingly, big consultancies love making recommendations based on data. Anyone who follows sport in any meaningful way will understand the importance of the results, statistics and “form”. But focusing on this kind of essentially historical data alone may not be enough if what you really want to do is take control of the future.

(For an example of the power of thinking creatively about strategy, consider the contrasting fortunes of two of England’s international cricket teams. The men’s Test team has adopted a strategy built on eliminating the fear of losing. The swashbuckling result – known as Bazball – has seen a dramatic upturn in results in the past couple of years, culminating in an exciting series last summer where only the weather prevented us reclaiming the Ashes from Australia.

(The 50-over team, meanwhile, seems wedded to a stats-driven approach that comes across as timid, old-fashioned and lacking in either flexibility or imagination. And late last year we crashed ignominiously out of the World Cup.)

Third – and this comes back to alignment – can you expect a strategic change recommended by a consultant who’s known you for six months to be embraced by sales teams who know better than anyone how to engage businesses facing their own pressures? Or by your customer services team fielding questions about a sudden change in direction they don’t understand? Change driven from the top can be challenging at the best of times; when it seems to have come from outside the business, it can be harder still.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The answers are closer than you think

AG Lafley and Roger Martin, in their 2013 business bestseller Playing to Win, demonstrated a clear link between creative and strategic thinking. They argued that strategy should be focused on imagining future possibilities, not crunching past numbers. What’s needed is a safe space for channelling the creativity of key stakeholders and a framework that will help test hypotheses and – ultimately – choose the most promising direction.

Our own new B2B Reinvention offer is very much inspired by this thinking.

By leaning on human-centred creative and design-thinking principles, businesses can harness their own experience and knowledge to address their challenges and opportunities in a thoughtful and productive way. In this model, the role of a consultancy like us isn’t to tell you what to change. It’s to channel and capture creative thinking in a systematic way and to provide some of the evidence that will influence the final strategic choice.

Inside-out, not outside-in

Crucially, the people whose creativity is being channelled in this model are those closest to the business itself. Not only are they the people with the best insights and experience, they’re also the ones who will have to live and breathe the decisions being made.

It’s about your people fostering strategy, not foisting strategy upon your people.

Start with your people

Depending on where you’re sitting, today’s dynamic business environment – driven as it is by an unprecedented confluence of AI, climate change, geopolitics and tough economic conditions – might be described as turbulent, scary, dynamic, interesting, unprecedented or just plain bonkers*. Finding your point of difference has never been harder. Identifying the next chapter in. your story is tougher still.

Start with your people. Their years of experience has made them experts in their field, and they know the business best.

And don’t underestimate the value of getting them in a room together: the answer’s in there somewhere.

* See also: Bazball.

Ben Bush is Partner and Head of Strategy at The Frameworks

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Business Leaders Know The Answers – They Just Can’t Unlock Them

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