By Dr Mythili Kolluru & Dr Chinue
The current pandemic has disrupted the dynamics of global markets, worldwide supply chains, local businesses, and customer consumption, accelerating the pace of disruption and propelling the world into an immediate crisis. Business leaders must rethink their organizations’ financial stability and resilience for future growth and stability. The perspectives of strategy must also undergo a sea of change encompassing agility within the individual, team, and organization. Leadership must look at strategic development as not a destination at a retreat/resort with top-notch consultants but as an ongoing series of occurrences where the employees are part of the strategic planning and implementation. When employees buy into the strategy, the execution will align with the envisioned strategy. There is no perfect strategy because exponential change alters the execution landscape. Strategic development is not rigid. It should be an agile process.
Figure 1. Strategy Agility Framework
Source: Developed by Authors
The people, processes, and technology framework will enable leaders to effectively strategize and transform their organizations. Understanding each component of people, processes, and technology enables leaders to gain visibility into opportunities, strategize approaches, and optimize the organization and operations demands. Leaders are the key to the successful implementation of their organization’s strategy. While their focus should be on achieving the organization’s goals, efforts should align with collaborating, engaging, and empowering them. With their team driving results, the organization can realize a greater impact in terms of operational efficiency, enhanced customer service, and brand recognition. In this ever-changing landscaping, leaders need to help their teams embrace change; ideate like never before; identify, pilot, and implement solutions; and execute on business imperatives.
In disruptive times, crucial decision-makers need to have a high quotient of emotional intelligence and emotional stability to make decisions objectively and not subjectively. Strategic agility enables transformation at three dimensions of thought, feeling, and action at an individual, team, and organizational level. A recent working paper reveals that mindfulness increases employee productivity, well-being, resilience, attention span and reduces stress and anxiety (Karlin, 2018). Mindfulness has proven effective at many leading organizations like Google, Workday, Salesforce, Aetna, and BCG. Mindfulness can be looked upon as a framework for strategic thinking and fostering an agile mindset. It could be an approach that could ignite the creative and innovative latent talent hidden in the human brain.
As teams work together to pivot their organizations during these disruptive times, a true sense of what is not working rather than what is working needs to be established. Here is the opportunity for leaders to determine the changes required, delegate to their teams the opportunity to develop action plans and next steps and transform their organizations. Teams can only realize success, financial, and organizational health once people are engaged, and processes are optimized. Organizations can learn from leaders like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who led the cultural transformation towards a growth mindset (Hobson, 2019; Ibarra et al., 2018; Nadella et al. 2018). The unprecedented pace of technological transformation, economic and societal change, and demographic dynamics necessitates a metamorphosis of strategic thinking. Strategy is no longer an “elite club.” Leadership must create an atmosphere of open dialogue with various stakeholders and engage in cross-functional interactions to get grassroots-level information. Before embarking on this journey of inclusive connectivity, the leader must ensure that the psychological safety of the employee is protected. Setting the security context will enable the employees to speak their minds without fear and bias.
The key components are quick communication, people involvement, flexibility, and adaptability to the changing demands of the environment. Corporations should not look at disruptions as a threat. Leaders must seize alternative opportunities to leverage technology for faster and sustainable client results. The Information Technology department is traditionally viewed from a functional perspective. It can also be looked at as an enabler if leveraged creatively. The Higher Educational Institutions and Information Technology (IT) companies and other sectors worldwide have adopted to work remotely in the pandemic’s wake. The Indian IT sector’s agile mindset has resulted in most of the companies adopting hybrid work strategies during and post-Pandemic.
The agile approach of the leadership has proved to ensure steady revenue, client deliverables, and employee satisfaction. In fact, for every employee that works remotely the company is expected to save an estimated $11,000 (Kolluru et al., 2021). An organization’s ability to transition is influenced by a host of factors like the nature of the industry, size, economic development of the country, customers, financial capacity, and other market dynamics. Organizations need to transition to extreme customer-centricity to be productive and progressive in such a fractured business landscape. Intense alignment with customer needs involves the following steps: Companies must try to tap the hidden needs of their clients, customer engagement, be aware and align with the client customer cycle. For example, in the bank’s anti-money laundering policy scope, they have a Know Your Customer (KYC) document. Organizations need to develop a similar framework called Know your Customer/Client Needs (KYCN). Organizations must embrace digital transformations and view them as enablers rather than threats (Nadella et al., 2018). Many views Artificial Intelligence (AI) skeptically, but mindset change to leverage the relation of decision making, strategy, and AI must be explored in impactful strategic dialogue.
Elements of Disruption
Embracing disruptions, leveraging technological advancements, managing human resources, and transitioning quickly will enable organizations to build competitive advantage in dynamic environments. Corporations must embrace the changes experienced within the competitive landscape stemming from disruptions. Working with employees, leaders can identify opportunities to differentiate themselves. Corporations must redefine the strategy-process-structure paradigm. Value chain analysis is a fundamental tool that will redesign the workflow, workforce, and workspace. The higher the degree of flexibility and agility, the faster the organization will outperform its competitors. Developing a risk-taking culture across cross-functional teams will create a new learning curve for the employees and ensure that the organization is at the frontier of innovation and change. To reinforce the risk-taking ability, HR must develop appropriate incentives and rewards. Leadership must also evolve from control to decision empowerment. Developing a culture of collaborative decision-making will reduce risk and create a sense of shared responsibility. Relationship leadership with empathy, a high quotient of emotional intelligence, and support extended to all ecosystem stakeholders will ensure sustainable organizational well-being and growth.
A Path to Strategic Agility
Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and globalization have drastically changed the dynamics of organizations and competition. The world is moving from change management to managing change. Industries are unbundling; formal categories are reduced; decentralization and flatter organizations are some of the fundamental developments in the corporate world. To grapple with the dynamic nature of organizations, corporate leadership can look towards strategic agility as a possible solution. Strategic agility is not a magical formula that corporations can adopt, but it is the magic organizations can apply to their unique strategy (Ahammad et al., 2020). Strategic agility is to infuse fluidity into the strategy development and decision-making process. Strategic agility is a set of practices that embrace the possibility of change. Strategic agility involves developing an agile approach to innovation, strategic planning, and operational planning.
- Strategic agility makes the organization strategically empowered. Organizational resources, staff, and technology must be working in an agile culture that thrives on accepting and embracing change at neck-breaking speed. Several approaches to become strategically agile encompass the following:
- Do not make rigid long-term goals.
- Develop processes that can quickly adapt to customer and market requirements and technology advancement
- The perception towards strategy as rigid must change to fluid.
- Organizations can acquire agility through observation and practice.
- Strategic planning should not be limited to board rooms but must transcend to incorporating insights from the grassroots level.
- Collaborative decision making
- Leaders must model agile behavior.
- Leverage technology into strategic thinking
- Approach strategic development as an agile process and continuously involve organizational members, ensuring agile strategy.
Strategy in disruptive times provides a plethora of opportunities for organizations to reassess current practices and foster sustainable growth by addressing people, process, and technology. As leaders build, develop, and coach their employees, engaged employees help advance the organization, driving improved results. By reassessing outdated processes and strategies, organizations can become more efficient, reduce non-value, add activities, and improve the quality of services and products offered. Technology change provides opportunities for organizations to transition from manual applications and policies to provide more effective options for leaders to drive better business decisions. What is the critical lesson for leaders of organizations? The essential lesson for leading strategy in disruptive times emerges from the shared experiences cultivated during the transformation. That is why learning is crucial for leadership, team members, individual employees, and the organization to foster momentum toward evolving in disruptive times.
Ahammad, M. F., Glaister, K. W., & Gomes, E. (2020). Strategic agility and human resource management. Human Resource Management Review, 30(1), 100700.
Hobson, P. (2019). Satya Nadella: Bringing Microsoft into the Modern Age. The E&S Magazine, 63(2), 13.
Ibarra, H., Rattan, A., & Johnston, A. (2018). Satya Nadella at Microsoft: Instilling a growth mindset. London Business School case no. LBS CS-18-008 (London: London Business School, 2018).
Karlin, D. S. (2018). Mindfulness in the workplace. Strategic HR Review
Kolluru, M., Krishnan, K., & Kolluru, S. K. (2021). Post-COVID-19 Work Strategies and Implications: Insight on the Indian IT Sector. ECONOMICS, 9(2), 49–72. https://doi.org/10.2478/eoik-2021-0014
Nadella, S., & Euchner, J. (2018). Navigating Digital Transformation: An Interview with Satya Nadella. Research-Technology Management, 61(4), 11-15.
Nadella, S., & London, S. (2018). Microsoft’s next act. The McKinsey Quarterly
Dr. Mythili Kolluru is an Assistant Professor at the Undergraduate and Professional Studies Department, College of Banking and Financial Studies, Oman, with teaching and research experience over diverse areas of Strategic Management, Organizational studies, and International Business. She has obtained a doctorate in strategic management, focusing on the relationship between strategic management and leadership. She is a certified Strategic Planning Professional. She has over 20 years of experience in academics and the corporate world, spanning the USA, India, and the Middle East. She has supervised over 100 Masters and undergraduate research projects. She has published actively in ABDC, Elsevier, Emerald, Scopus, Q4, peer-reviewed journals, edited book chapters, and a book on strategic management. She has presented at both national and international conferences. She is a reviewer, editor, and presenter at various platforms. She actively participates in outreach initiatives nationally and internationally through her active involvement in Knowledge Oman and the Association of Strategy Professionals.
Dr. Chinue has 20 years of experience in Leadership, Operations, and Strategy. She has worked as a Chemical Engineer, Operations Manager, Strategy Manager, Master Black Belt, and Management Consultant. She has successfully led global initiatives, including managed a cancer center’s telehealth program; leading KPI development and strategic planning for government agencies; supported a medical system with expanding COVID19 testing and vaccinations; managed a CDC diabetes prevention program serving underserved populations; developed a tri-county behavioral health hub workflows and procedures; and supported an international life sciences company’s supply chain operation. She has taught at the university level, is serving on two doctoral committees, delivered workshops as a Facilitator/Trainer, and has presented her research on strategy and rural healthcare at national conferences. She has a BA in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an MBA from Marquette University, and a DBA from Walden University with a Healthcare Management specialization. She is a certified Master Black Belt and Strategic Planning Professional. Additionally, she serves as the Board Chair for the Boys and Girls Club of St. Thomas/St. John and Board Secretary for the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP).