Creating an agile and strategic business

Yves Doz, the Solvay Chaired Professor of Technological Innovation at INSEAD, shares strategic tips on transforming a business from a short-term creature of habit into a flexible and agile success.

In 2004, Yves Doz was approached by Mikko Kosonen, the CIO and key strategist at Nokia, to carry out some research on the business. Kosonen was worried: on the outside Nokia was perceived as a very successful company but internally it had lost direction. Kosonen thought that unless the business changed, it would be in danger of hitting a wall – a fear that was realised just a few years later. Doz worked with Kosonen and together they began to investigate what makes a business successful. The result of their joint research was the book, ‘Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game’. Published in 2007, it became an instant bestseller in the business world. Since then, Doz has used his agility strategies to turn other businesses around and help them succeed.
Keep the strategy fresh 

The problem that Nokia had was common to a number of successful businesses around the world: it wasn't updating its strategy often enough. As Doz explains, strategy is not something you do once a year and then forget. "The former President of Nokia, Pekka Ala-Pietila, said, 'Five to ten years ago, you would set your vision and strategy and then start following it. That does not work anymore. Now you have to be alert every day, week, and month and renew your strategy!’” Doz adds, “What happens is that businesses fall victim to approaching strategy as a periodic process and they lose their strategic skills by not doing it often enough."
Being agile, however, is not just a matter of re-aligning your strategy every few weeks. As Doz reveals, one of the key problems for businesses is that they become creatures of habit, which, “leads to conservatism, where the everyday concentration on the short-term and business as usual becomes the routine.”
Leading by example 
Depending on its industry or area, there are plenty of strategies that can be used to make a business more agile. Strong leaders should recognise that they may be the ones holding the business back, rather than pushing it forward. Doz cites successful organisations like IBM or SAP, whose CEOs concentrate on putting the right people in place within the business, giving those people autonomy and bringing their collective strategies together, rather than the CEOs single-handedly shaping the business strategy on their own. Although he doesn’t rule out a business with a single leader deciding the strategy, when appropriate, such leaders should be wary of thinking they know everything. As Doz warns, “Nokia were very comfortable with the telecommunications world and could make good decisions based on gut instinct. However, when the focus moved from telecoms to the media and to the computing and the internet world, and to California – and businesses like Apple arrived – they were lost and could not change their behaviour intellectually.” 
Adapt to surviv
Agility comes down to some important key components: adapting to change and reacting to it in real time, being well-informed by improving your foresight and insight and understanding your market (Nokia didn’t understand why people would want touchscreens or sleek design, whereas Apple did). Businesses need the budgets and the ability to reallocate those budgets without having an internal fight every time there's a need to respond to change swiftly.  
Getting everyone on board 
The final key part to business agility is, as Doz explains, getting everyone in the business involved and signed up to making the business’ strategy a joint decision, thus avoiding a blame culture. However, Doz concedes that the move to agile can only come from the top. So if you feel like your business is floundering, then take a leaf out of the agile book: start to bring your employees in on the business strategy, and make sure it's on the agenda every day, and not just once or twice a year.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK