Get Ready to Change Altitude
By Mona Pearl
For some, the world is flat; others say it is a bumpy and curved world. Whatever the terrain, there is one major change that companies are having an extremely hard time planning for: Designing a new kind of global strategy that focuses on the ability to change in almost a moment’s notice, and still maintain the action plan as an integrated unit. Sounds like a contradiction? Maybe, but it is the new reality as events in the world force companies to redefine the meaning of strategic planning.
For many companies, successful global expansion is a new altitude they need to manage. Like high altitude climbing differs from many other pursuits because of the constant threat of danger and potential death, so do many successful leaders in national markets feel about global markets; the potential risk, the daunting idea of failure and the unknowns. The difference is that elite high altitude climbers mentally prepare for the climb while maintaining an effective focus on the mountain. They keep their eyes open, looking up, reaching the new altitude.
Part of what allows successful Mount Everest climbers to stay focused and remain confident on the mountain is their commitment to thoroughly plan for the adventure. The actual climb takes about two months, including various acclimatization stages, rest days, and the final push to the summit. Climbers must remain focused, committed, and healthy for a prolonged period of time to be successful. Following this logic, leadership needs to focus on a set of new skills needed to master the elevated model of integration of swift action plans into the strategic planning, while redefining the role of the plan, the people involved and the means to execute.
We face a higher volume and degree of complexity, more competition and change that transcends borders, industries and disciplines. Companies will need a new kind of expertise to thrive in the new reality. How will you fill the gap? More people or a different way to operate?
Today, most companies are operating in a manual like, old fashioned way: Follow the crowd, neglecting to align company capability with target market.
The degree and complexity has never been greater, and it is going to grow, so how about simplifying your approach and adapting it to the new altitude? What does it really take?
*Understand your market and the altitude of your customer, decision makers, and other crucial factors.
*Know how to attach the importance of global strategic planning to some of the converging factors that are going on.
*Deal with disruptions in the business level: How do you plan to utilize them and pull them through?
*Are you going to engage in trendjacking? Either create your own trend and deliver on it or trendjack on an existing one? Do you know enough? For example, for W.W. Grainger Inc., a key component of expanding internationally is that the distributor has to focus on “ensuring local relevance.” This results in their business model being different depending on the market. For example, in Canada the distributor has a big presence in rural areas of the country due to the focus on resources, different from its footprint in the United States. In Japan, Grainger is mostly Internet-based, focused on small customers.
What has Changed?
It is a new daunting reality to many businesses around the world, where the playground presents more challenges, unfamiliar to companies and their leadership. Most major players don’t have the capability to respond in a swift and flexible manner, and therefore the issues become more complex, tough to navigate and the bottom line outcome: loss of market share, money and talent.
They don’t have the flexibility needed to navigate today’s realm and the problems associated, and these are not integrated in their plans which are outdated. The old planning models won’t suffice and the deficiency in performance is proof. What is needed: flexibility, speed, unconventional thinking, swift decision-making, a deep understanding of the reality in the field and the ability to “move the troops” in an organized and tactical manner for better results and go for the win. Managing across and beyond borders, in fast moving markets requires a laser-like focus on execution and operational excellence.
There is nothing permanent except change. We indeed live in an era of acceptance of the fact that constant transformation is part of our lives. The global playground has changed and so did the players, the rules and even the name of the game. What is different?
*The size and numbers of companies entering the global market
*Where these companies originate from
*The ways these companies perform and succeed
*Technology in the driver’s seat
*The changing role and path of innovation
*The need to navigate so many variables, analyze, deep dive and understand the meaning of new concepts, not only the numbers. This requires rethinking approaches, investigating benefits and building a strong foundation that is flexible, modular and easy to navigate.
With all these major changes around us, one critical component hasn’t been touched: that is the strategic planning process itself. Companies still meet once a year for a retreat, board meeting or other settings, to decide what needs to be done and how to do it. The plans are written down, delegated, but are not actively exercised. Since the origin of strategy comes from the art of war, please note that the generals are usually in the field, and all wars fought through digital screens only, failed. Why? The people who plan aren’t close to the scene and to the developments, to be able to sense the cause and effect in the field.
*Data doesn’t lie, but can mislead.
There is a need for greater sophistication and interpretation of what lies underneath that data to be used, and when mining customer insights. There is a wealth of data out there. Information only isn’t power anymore. Many companies don’t understand what the information they gather/mine actually means in terms of market potential and specifically for their company. What really matters is the analysis on multinational and multi-cultural levels. That talent set is incredibly rare. A simple quant jock will not suffice anymore.
For companies to steer safely through the murky terrain of today’s global playground, we have developed a process to get started and redefine the traditional strategy steps. What needs to change in your business approach to successfully manage your global operations? How will you redefine your global strategic planning? How will you change the altitude and increase your chances for success?
*How to align with the changing reality? What to look at?
Penetrating, developing and operating in international markets require an entrepreneurial philosophy and drive — the same kind of philosophy and drive behind every successful startup business. Following that logic, America — the birthplace of the modern entrepreneurial spirit — should perform well in the global business environment. Also, with its multi-cultural diversity, theoretically it should improve its chances for global success. Plan, commit and act. Know to ask the right questions, do the due diligence and get the right data, and understand that there are many ways of doing business. Corporate America needs to learn and adapt.
This means that the role model and skill set of the C-suite need to reach that altitude as well. The focus on corporate culture of not to fail instead of succeed, will not work anymore. The new frontier is that there is no frontier — businesses responding to this reality may have a significant impact on the economy as a whole. Savvy entrepreneurs will likely see opportunity where others see impasse.
Knowledge in Action
Like mountain climbing, companies need to confront the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence. What is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully. You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again, and as it applies to global strategy, success in one market is only the beginning of work in a different market.
French author, René Daumal, said: “Shoes are not like feet — we are not born with them. Therefore we can choose them. Let yourself be guided in this choice first by experienced people, then by your own experience.” Get the help of experts and thought leaders that can lead you to the peak, make sure you have the right gear, training and preparedness to enjoy the new altitude.
Companies must develop highly flexible business models that enable them to respond to new opportunities and threats. A new process for strategic planning, to include new tools and an elevated approach will be necessary for success in the global arena. It also takes time to acclimate, and again, people need different timeframes. So, when we apply this logic to the business world, companies need to prepare for this new altitude; make sure the company has the necessary resources to make it, practice and train while being nimble and flexible.
Mona Pearl is the founder and COO of BeyondAStrategy, Inc., and an expert in global corporate expansion strategies. She is the author of the book Grow Globally: Opportunities For Your Middle Market Company Around The World. Learn more at www.monapearl.com.
Illustration by Photokanok at Free Digital Photos.net