The ability to see and seize, to shift and focus, is not the norm for most organizations, wherein these skills must be learned. As in so many initiatives in business and in life, the theory is simple to grasp. The implementation is a far more difficult task, as press coverage of failing and failed businesses demonstrate. The challenge of seeing what’s ahead is hard enough, let alone having the peripheral vision required to see what may be coming from the sidelines. While organizations use many methods for gauging the future and the implications for their future, one of the best and most obvious tactics of all is simply getting out and getting to really know the audience you serve. Talk to people, not in formal focus group setting, but where they live and shop and take their kids to get ice cream. Ask what interests them, what worries them, what delights them, and what daily challenges they face.
Seeing is just the first part of the challenging equation; seizing is the second. It is knowing when and if and how to take action when you see an opportunity, and being able to execute the necessary shift efficiently and effectively, and credibly. Many organizations have all the tools and resources they need to discern what the future holds. However, they are either financially or culturally unable to do anything about it. It may also be a matter of inertia. The word “seize” is associated with passion and energy and motivation. Carpe diem (seize the day) is a phrase wonderfully brought to life in a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society, in which Robin Williams, portraying a passionate, energetic, and motivated teacher at a boys’ prep school, implores his young charges to “make every day extraordinary.” To do this takes desire and ambition.
But let’s get back to the “how” and the matter of credibility. Organizations that are successful at shifting have self-knowledge. They know what is fundamental to their character. They know what they stand for in the minds of consumers. And they know they must keep a sharp focus on whatever this fundamental is as they shift to stay relevant.
To achieve this there are five key dimensions against which an organization must exhibit strength, and they are critical for seizing what you see. We interviewed people representing over ninety organizations, from a wide array of categories, for our book, Shift Ahead: How The Best Companies Stay Relevant In A Fast Changing World. Some of them were successful in shifting; others were less so. Nevertheless, all could attest to the fact that these five dimensions were essential elements in being able to see and seize.
1. Financial The first dimension against which an organization must exhibit strength is having the necessary financial foundation, the basic rocket fuel to support the effort for the long haul. Many organizations start this journey with good intentions, but underestimate the financial horsepower required to get them where they want to go. It may be that they started the process early enough, in good financial health, but either didn’t anticipate breakdowns or setbacks along the way that would require additional funding, or that the process would go on much longer than originally thought. In addition, many organizations cannot manage investor expectations or establish realistic goals, making it necessary for them to reevaluate objectives, which affects credibility and eventual outcomes.
2. Cultural The second dimension against which an organization must exhibit strength is having a culture with a can-do attitude, or at the very least a leader who can institute and maintain a positive cultural vibe. In all success stories in our book, the organization was primed to succeed. Everyone knew his or her role in making it happen and was given the tools and the appropriate support. While it is always easy to get discouraged, cultural optimism is essential to overcome obstacles. In all cases in which success was achieved, there was a sense that everyone in the organization was “in this together.”
3. Clarity Your organization can have an abundance of both cash and optimism, but it needs to be laser-focused on where it wants to go and why. Most organizations cannot make multiple bets or hedge their bets on the future. The goal must be simple and clear and memorable, and it must be more than to make money. Everyone must understand what the goal is and understand how a given action aligns— or doesn’t—with bringing it to life.
4. Executional All organizations that successfully seized what they saw were able to take their concept and turn it into reality in a way that met, or exceeded, the expectations of all stakeholders. Their efforts were seen as credible and game-changing, from both inside and outside the organization. The road may be paved with good intentions, but there is no partial credit, no almost there, when it comes to a successfully executed shift of focus. If you can’t make it happen, it doesn’t matter.
5. Leadership Finally, to undertake a successful shift, there must be a leader at the helm who is not just forward-looking but has peripheral vision. Such an individual does not just see down the road, but can see from multiple directions. This person must be able to simplify and crystalize the mission and communicate it to the many stakeholders involved. This leader must be able to exemplify the mission in a credible fashion, not just give it lip service. The leader must be able to tolerate uncertainty and keep their people in a positive frame of mind throughout the process. They must have what it takes to make bold decisions and demonstrate a personal commitment to driving the endeavor forward.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel. Excerpted from their book Shift Ahead: How The Best Companies Stay Relevant In A Fast Changing World
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