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Surviving economic anarchy: Five strategic steps to growth


Dr Grant Sieff, director of the Strategic Thinking and Execution for Growth Programme at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, offers five steps you can take towards thinking strategically and allow your company to grow in tough times.

The passing of Margaret Thatcher is a sign of the times: Thatcherism is certainly gone, and so too is any naivety that we can depend on any one simple formula to ensure global economic stability.

Dr Sieff describes the environment we find ourselves in as economic anarchy: “It’s not a slow evolution; it’s more like a series of shocks – more shaken than stirred.”

The nature of business is that it is in constant flux: Globally, economies are slowing once again and technology continues to evolve rapidly. Google Glass, which combine the power of Google with a pair of glasses, for example, is about to come out, and could revolutionise the way we examine possibilities.

However, Sieff says that inside this cauldron of radical change lie opportunities for:

  • Businesses to innovate and get ahead; and
  • Executives who have the ability to think strategically and execute strategies to ensure ongoing growth in the face of uncertainty and change.

But for that to happen, leaders and executives need to develop the skills to be able to identify and leverage opportunities. Sieff says that these skills can be condensed into five key steps. 

1. Strategy is not about the plan

Sieff believes that more important than having a plan is the ability to strategise constantly. “Of course a plan is necessary, but strategy is about the process. By that I mean a good process means ongoing strategy: It is not something we do at one point in time, but rather what we have to do all the time while we operate, while we fight crises. It is crucial that in every moment, you are thinking strategically,” he says.

2. Employ a framework for strategic conversation

Leaders must apply a simple framework for engaging in a strategic conversation, in both their own minds and through interaction with others.

“What does that look like? Simply put, question what is going on today in the operating environment outside your organisation, and in your internal organisational environment. Look at what is relevant, and what may have changed from yesterday,” says Sieff.

If you consider the external operating environments – the political, economic, social and technological - it becomes clear that change is constant.  “And some of those changes will have an impact, for the better or the worse, on an organisation,” he says.

For a strategic conversation to happen, the connection between external and internal changes must be taken note of. “When you look at the strategies you use today to deliver to customers in the operating environment, how well aligned are those strategies? Where are those gaps? How have customers’ and stakeholders’ needs changed, and what gaps are created because of those changes?”

3. Look to the future – and spot the gaps

Sieff says that as organisations look to create growth strategically, they must also question their aspirations.

“What is the vision and the stretch goals to get from where an organisation is today to where it needs to be a year from now? By examining this, you can see where you need to put your strategic focus. When you think about the future, you are hopefully seeing a set of gaps between where the organisation is and where it will be. If these artificially created gaps that don’t exist, you are being too complacent,” he says. 

4. Prioritise strategic opportunities

Once you have identified the gaps, you can look at these as strategic opportunities for growth. “Which of those gaps are worthy for you to focus on? Essentially, what steps can you take to place yourself above the competition?” To realise this, organisations need to get their priorities in order by asking which gaps and which options can be turned into the most beneficial results for their organisation,” says Sieff. 

5. Make it happen

The last step in any strategising activity must be about making it happen; taking action and leveraging the gaps you have chosen to create the results you want.  “Recognise that if you want to, the opportunity is there. However, you often need clear thinking and strategic leadership to make it happen. As new challenges and opportunities arise, businesses need leaders who are present enough to take advantage of the situation. Whether we like it or not; an organisation that ignores this is doomed to fail.”