Is “Strategy” Relevant In An Uncertain World?

“Business strategy is the battle plan for a better future.”

That’s from Patrick Dixon—a management guru and one of the most influential business thinkers of the last decade.

Everybody talks about strategy, and there are many ways to define it. But here, we’ll define it very simply and very broadly—as a set of moves that make a company “win.”

But what would “strategy” even look like going forward?

In today’s fast-moving, unforgiving world, there are “Black Swans,” and dark horses everywhere and all the time. When it has become increasingly difficult to bet on the future, does business strategy (and sticking to it) even matter? A single innovation can render one’s battle plan obsolete, a single product can gut a whole industry. 

For folks who already know that nobody can predict the future, we sure spend considerable hours in the meeting room, coming up with inches of documents to craft the perfect business strategy.  

So, if any, what role does strategy have for today’s entrepreneurs? We try to answer these questions and more in this piece. 

Speed: A Post-Covid Effect

We know that the only constant thing in this world is change. This is especially true in the business sphere, where competitors are constantly trying to outdo each other.

Not only is change always happening, but we also know that things are changing at a faster clip.

When Covid hit, it put a whole lot of premium on speed. It was “change fast, or die.” Businesses were challenged like never before, and with their backs to the wall, they responded.

I’m not just talking here of the “small guys,” or little businesses that can easily maneuver without layers of committees and meetings. I’m talking of big corporations, monolithic enterprises that we used to think of as only ever moving like glaciers.

In 2020, for example, a global telco retrained and retooled 1,000 in-store employees in 3 weeks. An engineering company designed and manufactured a ventilator in 1 week. A US-based retailer launched a new business model in 2 days. (It was originally planned for 18 months.)

During the pandemic, businesses got a taste of what they can do, and are bringing those lessons post-Covid. Like sharks having tasted blood, businesses have realized what they can do when they cut all the nonsense, reduced the number of people sitting in a committee, banned PowerPoint, and decreased the number of meetings.

Today, in the “new normal” world post-Covid, there has never been a better time for speed. It has been unconsciously baked into the way we’re doing business. We got a taste of what can be accomplished in a short time these past two years.

Unfortunately, it seems like everybody has learned the lesson, even our competitors, making the game that much harder to play.

Speed…and change are a deadly combination—especially for management and strategy planners who decide where to head the ship.    

Stubborn on the vision, flexible on the details

So is “strategy” useful post-Covid?

Jeff Bezos, in a Forbes article, stated what has been a guiding principle for Amazon, revealing how the company has not only managed to weather the torrent of change in its industry but often led those game-changing transformations:  

“The most important thing is to be stubborn on your vision but flexible on details.”

We saw how the company dealt with challenges and changes not only during the pandemic but throughout the epic sojourn of Amazon from an online bookseller, to a global e-commerce powerhouse.  

You can be stubborn about the vision, but not about the details. Management needs to separate the two. One is negotiable, and the other is (almost) not.  

In today’s turbulent times, a strategy is only useful when it empowers the company. A strategy that locks an organization to a single, one-size-fits-all move, in the midst of a barrage of change is no strategy at all.

A business can be wedded to a single abiding purpose, but not to the means of getting there. Because things are in flux. A captain can determine a boat’s ultimate destination, but when storms come, when pirates lurk under quiet waters, or when the main engine suddenly conks out, adaptive maneuvers have to be taken.   

If we define “strategy” as a set of moves that allows a business to “win,” it would then seem that the only lasting strategy that a business needs to have in a time of change is flexibility. It’s the antidote to uncertainty—because uncertainty and change are baked into it.

So what would that look like?

Here are four characteristics of businesses with strategic flexibility.

Flexible businesses have…

#1 People who can play different roles.

An organization full of specialists will be in tip-top shape when times are ideal. It’ll be smooth sailing for the team because everyone is doing what they do best. But take one piece out of the framework and it will create a chain reaction that’ll reveal a precarious deck of cards.

Somebody calls in sick, and the whole team is paralysed. (That organization is not robust, only hyper-optimized to a fault.)

In an era where things are in constant flux, where employees can jump from one company to another when budget cuts necessitate firing and re-hiring staff when job descriptions themselves have become blurry, companies need people who can play multiple positions.

business strategies

The evolution of the NBA is an example of the importance of generalists. There used to be clearly delineated positions in a basketball lineup. You have point guards, centres, and forwards. But over the decades NBA teams have realized, (especially in games when shooters are having a bad night, or when defensive specialists are in foul trouble), that it’s better to have players who can comfortably slide into 2, 3 or even 4 different positions.     

Generalists are today’s, Lebron James.

The topic of creating “generalists” is a long one and can be a post unto itself, but some of the ways companies can make themselves strategically flexible are through:

  • Information sharing (no information silos)
  • Training, apprenticeship and mentorship systems
  • Streamlining and simplifying business processes

A company can get ahead by creating a “musical chairs” system for employees—regularly and purposefully switching roles to allow staff to work in the different departments.    

#2 Not wedded to any “one.”

A flexible organization has a robust system of redundancies at all levels and for different scenarios. 

That is, a flexible organization is not locked-in to a single supplier, indebted to one big customer, or one customer segment etc.

Having a “The One” will have many negative consequences:

  • It unnecessarily creates a chokepoint for the business operations, (like when a supplier fails to be on schedule).
  • It decreases the company’s bargaining power, (like when that one big customer asks for unreasonable perks).
  • It becomes your main weakness and is an easy target for competitors.

Having multiple options, whether it’s for raw materials, manpower, markets, etc. makes a company robust and “antifragile” to whatever exigencies can happen in the industry.

On the other hand, if a company can position itself as the sole supplier (eg. exclusive contracts), or make its services or products so unique or of a quality that essentially makes it a class of its own—then that can have the opposite effect. It’ll give the organization more bargaining power, prestige and pricing power—powers needed to weather coming storms.   

#3 A “war chest”

Options and contingencies cost money. A flexible organization has a fund that comes to bear when changes in the industry necessitate moves and reactions that ultimately cost capital.

For example, new trends could make old equipment obsolete and require the purchase of new technologies.

Money is the ultimate flexibility. It doesn’t just buy things needed to operate. In times of crisis, and perhaps more importantly, it buys time for retraining, restructuring and retooling. It allows businesses to experiment and make mistakes without going bust.   

Money allows businesses to run daily operations, capture scarce talent, and open up new markets. 

With that in mind, strategic flexibility means high liquidity. Company wealth, the majority of it, should not be unnecessarily tied to depreciating assets. The risks with illiquid assets like real estate should be carefully considered.   

(During Covid, the businesses that had enough funds to sustain their staff are the ones who survived the pandemic.)

#4 Gone digital…

Robust, flexible businesses have largely gone digital. Their data and documents have gone from being on paper to being on the cloud, with operations moving from their office space to cyberspace.   

Digital is a form that cannot be “destroyed,” with the added benefit of protection of the highest degree. Data in digital form is more flexible, more precise and more social, and can facilitate collaboration, coordination and productivity. 

Digital is “location agnostic.” Irrespective of where on Earth team members are located, a company has gone digital and can “meet” without being in the same room. This “office” is essentially rent-free and doesn’t close at night, because guess what, digital isn’t bound by the regular “9-to-5”.

These characteristics of the digital space make businesses highly flexible. They can operate, literally, with the speed of light.    

Not all businesses can go digital and not all parts of the business can be digitalised. But those that can be, have been done so with the eagerness for lower costs and greater flexibility.

And that, in four bullet points, is what a strategically flexible company looks like. It has people who can quickly shift from one role to another, it is not wedded to any “one,” it is very liquid, and finally, it has practically gone digital.

Speaking of which, the one strategic move that touches on all these four points and gives businesses, even small ones, flexibility, is remote staffing.

That’s the emergent trend where companies hire workers from other countries and simply manage them remotely.

So for example, a small business from the United States can hire virtual assistants or marketing staff working remotely from the Philippines.

This strategic move ticks all ultimate flexibility. The most important of them is the             

Kinetic Innovative Staffing helps companies leverage this strategy by making the remote hiring                      

If you’re interested and wanted to learn more about this opportunity, do let us know.              


Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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