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Strategic Agility: A Careful Balance Between Stability And Flexibility

Grimt Habtemariam, Director of Global Routes to Market Acceleration at Cisco joined us for World Strategy Day 2022. In her session, “Strategic Agility: a careful balance between stability and flexibility,” she shared the most important lessons learned across her 15+ year career in the high-tech, startup, and consulting industries in how to create, incubate, scale, and execute sustainable growth strategies.

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Visual thinking representation of Grimt’s session

Let’s go through the four critical foundational elements of any sustainable growth strategy, according to Grimt.

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1. Agility

The first foundational element of a sustainable growth strategy is agility. When we often talk about agility, we think about the ability to adapt to continuous changing market shifts and its impact on product, portfolio, our total addressable market and our projected market share.

An excellent example of that would be what we saw with Spotify recently over the pandemic. So what happened over the pandemic? Advertisers had a huge cut in their spending budget, and Spotify's business model heavily relies on advertising. 

So what did Spotify do? Spotify quickly pivoted to offer original content in the form of podcasts. These podcasts allow Spotify to expand its target audience and, of course, attract new users to its platform. Plus, the podcasts allow advertisements to be embedded into the content, which meant more views and  more eyes on these ads. So it was a win, win, win approach.

But agility does not just steam from a shift in the market or in our market dynamic. It can also come from a change in organizational structure, in our strategy, our talent strategy, our operational strategy, or any element of a business go-to-market.

The need to adapt and innovate extends to ALL functional areas, and it boils through 3 things:

  • Identifying and capturing opportunities
  • Identifying and addressing gaps
  • Innovating or leveraging emerging innovations

Recommended reading: Agile vs Waterfall: Which one is better for your company?

2. Bias for action

The second foundational element of sustainable growth strategy is: bias for action. What does it mean? 

It's an acknowledgment that speed matters in business. It's about embracing calculated risk-taking built on an understanding that many decisions, as well as many actions, can actually be reversed. 

The pandemic certainly has provided us with many examples of the need for timely and decisive action business. History has also provided us with many examples of companies that failed to act in a timely manner, and this slow reaction even led them to bankruptcy.

History is full of these examples. Like Xerox with the photocopier, or Motorola with mobile phones, or Sun Microsystems with Java programming language. And - the classic - example which is Kodak. Kodak's slow reaction to digital photography took it from dominating the market at like 90% market share in the early 1990s to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy by 2012.

Of course, navigating external disruption is not comfortable… But disrupting ourselves is even less comfortable. It requires bias for action and also requires a very high level of adaptability. 

3. Adaptability

Adaptability is the third foundational element of sustainable growth strategy.

What is adaptability? Grimt defines it as the management of the push-and-pull effect between commitment and the need for change. It is the careful balance between the need for stability and the need for rapid accelerated change. 

Of course, disjointed, misaligned, rapid sets of changes can be chaotic - and even counterproductive. But, a well-orchestrated set of changes aligned to driving a common goal is what moves the ball forward in the right direction. That's what makes complex transformations possible.

Recommended reading: Strategy Report "You're doomed or you adapt"

4. Organizational Culture

But all of these foundational elements of a sustainable growth strategy would not be possible without the fourth one: organizational culture.

Culture is the one driver and enabler of sustainable growth. It's an element upon which all foundational elements stand on. In order to enable the ideation, collaboration, and resilience required to build and execute a sustainable growth strategy, this must be supported by the right organizational culture. A culture that ensures and cultivates psychological safety, that enables and nurtures creative freedom, that prioritizes continuous learning, improvement, and of course, innovation.

Recommended reading: Strategy Framework: How to foster a growth culture

How does everything come together?

To connect all pieces of the puzzle together, Grimt proposes a framework she’s been using and perfecting throughout her career:

  1. Start with identifying gaps and opportunities. 
  2. Design a strategy to capture those opportunities and address those gaps.
  3. Create clarity around the WHY and the target desired outcome.
  4. Align internal and external stakeholders around the why, the desired target outcome, and the how.
  5. Agree on what will be the measure of success and progress.
  6. Lead your organization to successful execution.

But don’t forget: all of this is possible with the right organizational culture. One that makes it safe to fail, empowers each employee, and fosters collaboration.

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How you view the world, shapes how you operate in it

To close, Grimt leaves us with one thought. 

Ask yourself: How do you view the world? 

Do you view the world as full of opportunities where new opportunities are continuously being created? Or one with finite opportunities and finite resources and where you have to fight to secure your fair share? 

Everything starts with self, and how you view the world, shapes how you operate in it as a member of the human race, as a business leader, and definitely as a strategist

Watch the complete session:

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