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2020 will be looked back upon as one of the most disruptive VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments the business world has experienced.  The process of planning, recovery and pivoting has been challenging enough in Industry 4.0 due to rapidly evolving life cycles, let alone given all the unknowns that covid and the economic crisis have brought our way.

The more overwhelmed we as leaders feel, the more important it can be to step back and evaluate our most complex challenges through the simplest of lenses.  In that vein, the aim of today’s blog is two share two important reminders: (1) There are four general paths (yes….only four) that an organization can pursue in order to grow or scale a business; and (2) Nothing should preclude leaders from considering more than one path at a time.   

Ask the Right Questions

After nearly three decades working in an advisory role to companies of every size, scale, scope and function, I am convinced that my value-add as a management consultant isn’t about walking in the door pretending to have all the answers, but rather to ask the strategic questions that help leaders make sure they have considered all of the options.  Interestingly, I find time and again that many of the most valuable questions I raise are what I deem to be elementary or obvious, until I remind myself that I have the benefit of not being so close to a topic. Distance can provide clarity.     

For example, when it comes to the planning process, I have tasked numerous organizations to consider future growth and scaling opportunities as fitting into one or more of the following four “buckets”: 

Maintaining & Improving What the Organization Already Offers

– Increased volume, accessibility

Providing Core Products or Services in a Modified Way

– Better, faster, convenient, customized, targeted, amplified

Expanding into Related Products and Services 

– Natural tangents that reinforce the brand and the viability and success of the original offerings

Layering in or Pivoting Toward Opportunities the Organization Never Previously Considered

– What hasn’t been considered yet? 

There isn’t a potential strategic plan that doesn’t fit into one of these four categories, but few organizations weigh future opportunities this way. In my experience, most leaders are set upon one of the buckets or growth paths, and don’t realize the benefit of a broader strategy. When prompted, the resulting discussions tend to reveal a great deal about the corporate culture’s risk tolerance and how organizational evolution is viewed. These answers are critical to developing a strategy that is executable.  

Layer in Additional Priorities

Additionally, layer the following five “VUCA” priorities into your planning:

– Control what you can control
 Harness growing importance of difference-making and CSR to achieve higher impact
– Identify evolving gaps/pain points in the customer journey and further distinguish value proposition by innovatively addressing them
– Utilize communication and collaboration to improve operational agility, adaptability, efficiency, scale, speed, scope and reach
– Align all stakeholders around the mission and leverage every possible resource/contributor

Ironically, in the age of digital transformation and pandemics, the traditional mindset of “sticking to what we know” is likely to be the riskiest approach of all.  I would argue that the most successful strategic plans moving forward will at least consider opportunities that fit into every “bucket”? 

As your leadership team looks forward to 2021, which path(s) are you considering?