Delivering Strategic Change

During a recent interview, Dr Thomas Zweifel and Andrew Stoneham Knott discussed the issues traditional business planning can now encounter when delivering strategic change, and how to unlock the hidden DNA within our organisations that we might have been held back without even realising it.  

Zweifel describes his own life as an example of “Strategy-In-Action”, the title of one of his books, which outlines his evolution from a ski instructor in his teenage years to eventually becoming a CEO. Zweifel is happy to admit he has made mistakes along the way; his focus is always the outcome or objective, not the pathway of how you might you reach your goal. A guest professor for leadership for 20 years at Columbia University, and a visiting professor at HSG in Switzerland, Zweifel has authored 8 books on strategy, leadership and performance. 

Taking a humanistic approach to strategy, as his book describes, Zweifel aims to help people unpick the DNA of their own organisation and understand how strategy can be delivered more effectively with actionable insights. According to Zweifel, traditional business planning can usually be improved upon in our current business environment, and there are many different answers to the question of why this is the case. In our day to day environment, technology and world changes can come at businesses fast and from left field, meaning it can be very difficult to plan. His view is that planning is traditionally separated from implementation too, and therefore culturally there can be a mismatch. A new approach, where planning and implementation work in synergy, is what’s needed. People only implement what they help create, says Zweifel, so it’s vital to look at the human side of business planning. People are the key change agents and need to be put at the centre of any strategy. 

Early challenges can be difficult to navigate for leaders trying to implement strategic change. One challenge is how to get the right people on the team to start with. Following Zweifel’s observation that people only implement what they help create, without the right team change will not happen. Similarly, how does change happen while still maintaining control and leadership from the CEO? Mindset shift is also vital; strategy should be a living, organic, and evolving process. This is a more natural and evolutionary way to approach the problem. 

Zweifel refers to unlocking the DNA within organisations; becoming aware that in order to implement new strategy, you have to look to culture as well. He notes the best strategies can fail when a culture is so pervasive that each time a new strategy is implemented, the overriding culture remains the stronger message to the organisation. Zweifel recommends looking for and understanding the unexamined assumptions that are in the background every organisation, which may be holding new strategy back. The mindset of the organisation is key, so revealing what isn’t immediately clear on the surface is a good first step. Culture creates certain behaviours and actions; the sub conscious or unconscious bias of your organisations thinking; therefore driving the future. 

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