Where is Your Company: Leading, Stalling, or Lagging Behind?
Michael DeVenney
March 7, 2022

“Five frogs were on a log and four decided to jump off. How many frogs were left on the log? The answer is five - because deciding to do something and doing it are two different things.”

Making decisions is challenging work. It demands courage – choices about priorities, which opportunities will we forgo, and which problems can we defer or ignore? And then there is the commitment to actually following through and doing something.

The most common complaint about making decisions is that people do not implement what was agreed upon. This limits the ability of the business to respond to change and see progress. And leaders need to get better at decision-making quickly. Like most all parts of work during the pandemic, everything has been accelerated, including making decisions.

Assessing the strategy of an organization is the primary decision facing most leaders today.

What was carefully crafted, discussed, and agreed to in the past no longer seems to be relevant during this time of crisis. Strategy should hold a business together, in good times or bad, although the resilience of past strategic planning is now in question.

The pandemic has led to a rapid acceleration of trends that were present before the crisis. And the impact of those patterns has been a widening of the gap between organizations that are ready for the future and those that stall and lag.

Although most executives feel their organizations and teams have responded effectively to the pandemic, recent reporting indicates that nearly one-third of senior executives are resistant or disconnected from the decisions and changes to strategy being made.

Why? Leaders responded quickly to survive, yet the feeling is that decisions have not been thoughtful for positioning the strategy for the future. In fact, even those closest to the senior leader, the executive team, are not onside as thought, many do not embrace changes based on new and urgent priorities – almost one-third of people will make their own decisions to protect their functional area.

Overall, due to poor decision processes, 42% of organizations were weakened by their response to the pandemic, with a further 30% stalling.

But 28% of leadership teams made strategic decisions that pulled their companies ahead, increasing their competitive edge. These aligned senior teams rapidly adapted their strategies to address both challenges and opportunities, taking actions that others did not. While many organizational and entrepreneurial leaders moved boldly, more looked to complacency – even in a time of crisis.

For most organizations, the crisis has exposed weaknesses and cracks in their strategic direction, how they make decisions, challenging their ability to sustain growth in the future. Making better decisions is critical.

Where is your company: leading, stalling, or lagging?

The first question is what companies did to increase their competitive edge during a time of extreme uncertainty, volatility, and complexity. They looked forward to the future, innovating around customer experience and preferences and operational efficiency (mainly to meet new customer needs). The customer was at the core of decision-making.

All companies that moved ahead focused on changing how they did business, adjusting one part or more of their business models, focusing on five areas:

  1. Applying digital technologies to develop enhanced customer experiences, build out product and service offerings to respond to changes in customer behaviors and needs
  2. Proactively seek new partnerships, or acquisitions, within their industry, and outside old boundaries for more diverse approaches
  3. Changing operations to better manage risk and enhance efficiency
  4. Shift the approach to business development, putting marketing ahead of sales to adapt to the changes in how people buy (from consumers to large corporations to government buyers, all changed their approach to a more digitally based journey)
  5. Faster development of new offerings through quick testing, learning, and iterating

At the core of the decisions made by leaders that moved their organizations ahead was innovation around the customer-facing parts of the business. For the 42% of businesses that lagged, little attention was placed on ways to improve customer experience.

And 60% of companies who made innovative changes reported being committed to continuing to innovate moving past the pandemic period. The need to adapt and be flexible will not end.

For leading companies, leadership teams made high-quality decisions and committed to implementing focused actions. These leaders kept their strategy in pace with the accelerating change by being flexible with their strategic planning process considering the high level of ongoing uncertainty.

To ensure the organization is strategically resilient no matter what the future brings, start by establishing a dynamic planning process that unlocks broader and deeper perspectives for informed decisions to adapt and grow.

  • Set a clear objective for decisions to be made, founded in the core purpose of the business.
  • Gain data from broader perspectives to inform decisions and move away from the same voices
  • With insights from data, develop scenarios rather than forecasts, to understand the range of possibilities
  • Create customer-focused initiatives to strengthen the strategic positioning of the company, through potential mergers and acquisitions and partnerships, investing in innovation initiatives, and improving productivity from a people-oriented approach and enhancing customer experience by listening to their preferences
  • Reset the long-term strategy, with heightened urgency to act and not play to complacency

To get to better decisions, the first step is to have more effective meetings. Yet too many decision meetings are doomed from the start, with 61% of executives feeling their time meeting to make decisions was ineffective.

The key is preparation.

One of the problems is most meetings have overlapping purposes, too many items on the agenda, and no clear objective to begin with. Start without clarity, and end in a fog.

The need is to first clarify the decision to be made in the meeting. Why the meeting is taking place – is it to share information, discuss situations, or make decisions? The lines are blurred, and the purpose of the meeting is unclear before it even starts.

People bring their own motivations to meetings, often unspoken, and decisions made often turn out to be “maybe’ after the fact. The solution is a clear decision process with commitment to next steps for execution. And overall, there needs to be a better way to ensure everyone is able to contribute and then commit to the decided direction.

Want a good meeting – begin by clarifying the goal. Change the meeting, improve decisions, set the organization for a leading strategic response.

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