Blog Post

Are we pivoting or just going round in circles?

#leadership #operating model #riskmanagement Nov 30, 2023

Are we pivoting or just going round in circles? 

“We’re pivoting to a new strategy” is something that I hear quite a lot.  It sounds controlled and graceful, a planned move from one strategy to the next driven by business need and technology change. Somehow it doesn’t seem to turn out quite like that because pivoting to a new strategy generally needs to be executed at speed to deliver the required results in the planned timescales.

 What tends to get forgotten in the planning is the fact that you have to keep delivering on the existing strategy, because that is what you have committed to deliver.  And unless you are one of those unique organisations that has a lot of spare capacity, you find that the people delivering the old strategy are the same people who are expected to deliver the new strategy.

 The result is too few people trying to do too many things and what starts as an orderly pivot on paper descends into a maelstrom as the organisation loses its poise.  Processes break, people break, prioritisation is lost in conflicting demands. The orderly pivot turns into an endless pirouette. It’s nobody’s fault, it just happens that way because everyone is overworked, nobody thought it through, or if they did they were often told that the answer was “unacceptable” and the organisation “will manage it if everyone makes a real effort”.

 So how do you stop the chaos happening? 

 You start with two plans, one to deliver today’s plan and the other to deliver tomorrow’s new strategy.  Each plan needs to be clear on what resources are needed to deliver it.  Audit the plans carefully until you are sure that they are adequate to deliver the objective but not over-resourced.  Then take a deep breath and decide you are going to believe and implement the plans.  This is a huge leap of faith and one that very few organisations have the courage to take because it is so much easier to muddle through and pretend that you can make the change on the cheap.

 Your first objective is to get enough people to deliver today’s plan, identify them, incentivise them and let them get on with it. Make sure there is effective project management and reporting. Remember that today’s plan will seem less exciting that tomorrow’s plan and the people assigned to it will need to feel that they are an important part of the overall achievement. Resist all temptation to put the same person on both plans.  They will tend to deliver tomorrow instead of today because that is always more. Interesting.  However much you say: “just spend 20% of your time on x”, that always fails. One good crisis and your plan has gone.

 Then look at what resource you have left (there will always be some) and allocate it to the tomorrow plan. Fill the gaps with outside help.  Not fancy consultants but people who have done similar work before and are prepared to get their hands dirty.  Get a good programme manager and ensure there is good and regular reporting.  Set a clear end date when the project ends and becomes business as usual. Get the outside help out of the business and move on with your own people.

Communicate what you are doing, in fact over-communicate what you are doing. You can never communicate too often.

 This may appear more expensive in the short term, but it beats muddling through every time. You have two projects properly delivered, staff who are not burnt out and have the energy to deliver on the new strategy. Your stakeholders will thank you; your people will stay with you.

 And unless they are as smart as you are, your competitors will still be in the chaos of a failed pivot while you carry on dancing.