We are seeking answers in the midst of the current situation caused by the coronavirus.
In addition to the severe health implications, the consequences for the global economy are far greater than expected. Companies over the globe are struggling.
The question is: how is this changing the way we work, organize and think about the future? In short, how does strategy work change? If you are only focussing on surviving and operational issues, you will not be prepared for whatever the new normal is going to be. We need a new approach, but how can we make sure that we are not throwing out things that still work?
While many of the classic lessons in strategy are still valid, there is one thing most companies fall short on. They have a lot of local knowledge and experience inhouse, but nearly every company fails to truly make productive use of it. No organization can claim to fully utilize the knowledge they have access to.
To thrive in the dramatic changes we are facing, truly engaging the knowledge and competences of the whole organization is key. Earlier this was thought of as a time-consuming and cumbersome process. Today, it is not.
But what does strategy work have to do with utilizing existing knowledge? After all, strategy is about the future, and existing knowledge has been collected from past experiences. Counterintuitively, combining different pieces of information, knowledge and experiences will generate solutions to unforeseen situations and challenges. The problem is that we don’t know what knowledge and solutions are relevant until we apply and try them.
So far, we have established that today’s strategic challenges require utilizing existing knowledge and creating new combinations of it. Additionally, action is required to see what parts of knowledge will work towards new solutions. The question that follows then is how do we create that knowledge-inducing action around the organisation
When Eric Schmidt was the CEO at Google, he said “We run the company by questions, not by answers.” Top management might have answers, at least they certainly have knowledge. However, presenting answers will only shut down conversation. Good questions, on the other hand, will stimulate dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
Questions are the answer in today’s strategy work. For example, how do we monetize on high-quality video? Or, how do we incentivize suppliers to reduce waste in our value chain? When you turn your strategy into questions, they induce curiosity and stimulate conversation. Through questions, people in the organization become much more engaged and eager to contribute.
In addition, answers will change, but questions will remain valid. The world moves fast, and therefore answers and solutions will become obsolete. Yet the questions will still be relevant in the future.
Consequently, a practical approach to strategy in today’s world is to use a question-driven methodology. It starts with someone, usually top management, defining key questions to be explored. These are based on a purpose of the company, and a vision of the future. Teams in all parts of the company take the questions as the starting point for exploration outside the organization. Together with top management they iterate and refine the questions until they are spot-on.
These strategy questions inspire people across the organisation to find new answers and solutions. In most cases, this involves a great deal of experimenting in practice. People take ownership naturally since they have been involved in the shaping of the questions themselves. Hence, the execution obstacle has already been removed.
Cutting edge companies have frequently employed a question-driven strategy approach to speed up the strategy process. However, as we see today the approach is especially well-suited for dealing with increasing uncertainty. Using the power of the many (i.e. the whole organisation) instead of the power of the few (i.e. top management), companies can achieve better results. Questions do not become obsolete as quickly as the answers to them. Therefore, we should be using more questions in strategy work.