A Strategy Consultant’s Requirements for a Sharp Right Turn

As a strategy consultant, I can tell you that most projects result in incremental change. That is perfectly acceptable as long as those changes will allow you to get where you want to go. Radical change just for the fun of it is sadistic! If you are successful now and project success (however you define it) in the future with a good process for peering around the corner you’d be a fool to change your strategy.

However, sometimes an organization is either looking for significant enhancements to their growth rate or more likely, has identified that what worked for them in the past is not going to cut it going forward. In the extreme (though not unusual) case, they are heading towards a brick wall. This is the domain of “big moves” rather than slight adjustments.

The difference between slight adjustments and big moves is akin to doing a push up vs. going through Marine boot camp.

So what must be in place for you to make big moves? 6 elements.

  1. A clear vision and strategy. (Where are we going and what will we do to get there.) Casting about, restructuring, trying to address new markets without a clear destination and an articulated way to get there is distracting in the very least and fatal in the worst case.
  2. You must have commitment within your team, not just compliance. Change is hard and some take to it better than others. However, trying to take the actions, build the new systems, address new customers and build the new products without first gaining commitment from your team is like trying to get the Iraqi army to fight ISIS. They might show up for a few paychecks, but will flee when the gunfight starts.
  3. Develop or acquire the skills required. You need the will (commitment) but you also need the skill. I too often see companies try to move in new directions without the skills to do so. You need to train, hire or buy the skills to succeed in the new environment, not the old one.
  4. Engaged leaders. You have to eat your own cooking before anyone else will. As CEO you need to be all-in or no one will follow you. Likewise with your senior team. Who wants to take dietary advice from a fat dietician? Often times this entails changing leaders. Your new direction may not be what they signed up for. That is not their fault. It is your fault, as CEO, if you don’t deal with it.
  5. Remove obstacles. There are processes, practices and people who will stand in your way or slow you down in your attempt to make big moves. They need to be eliminated. Identify them quickly and make compassionate decisions, but as the saying goes, if you’re going to cut the tail off of a dog, you don’t do it an inch at a time!
  6. Build supporting systems, structure and rewards. It is unlikely that the scaffolding supporting your old strategy will be the best support mechanism for your new direction. What are the critical elements necessary to build and sustain your new direction? You can get at the “nice to have” elements later, but there are 2 or 3 critical issues to address. Go after them with abandon.

Taking a hard right is no easier in business than it is with your family SUV while traveling at highway speed. It shouldn’t be done unless there is compelling evidence that you need to do so, but better to prepare for and well execute that maneuver than hit the brick wall!

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