As we wind down 2012, many of us are reflecting on what we accomplished in 2012 and what changes we will make to continue our successes into 2013. In my own work with small and medium businesses as well as non-profit organizations, managing change is the most common topic of conversation; and why not? The uncertainty that remains in the economic and political environments have leaders in the unenviable position of making the next right strategic decision in the face of all this uncertainty.
How do leaders mitigate this uncertainty enough to make the crucial decisions before them? While there are many moving parts to a successful business strategy, two elements of leading any organization is understanding the general environment you are competing in as well as knowing how your current capabilities match up to that environment. Key to a leader’s strategic thinking process includes a recurring assessment of their general environment against six different factors: Demographic/Psychographic, Economic, Political/Legal, Socio-Cultural, Technical and Global. Regardless of whether you lead a global organization or do business directly with the government, all six factors will influence your ability to adapt and evolve your business. As I briefly outline each factor below, ask yourself how they impact your business, non-profit or corporation.
While understanding the general landscape provides today’s leaders with a current view of their external environment, it is only useful if put in the context of their business. The tool most often used for this aspect of the strategic thinking process is the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Process. This assessment of the internal environment captures the current capabilities (strengths and weaknesses) and puts them in the context of the external environment (opportunities and threats). While the SWOT is a very versatile tool used to help leaders proactively deal with changes in their business, they must keep in mind it only provides a one-shot view of a moving target and must be used routinely to be effective. Additionally, because we identify an organizational strength through the SWOT process does not mean the strength represents a competitive advantage.
We know change is inevitable, but growth in our business because of the change is not. Leaders must constantly assess which way the winds of change are blowing and adjust their strategy accordingly. I am reminded of the closing scene in The Truman Show when Jim Carrey’s Truman finally makes it to the outer edge of his known world. After a brief dialog, Truman opens the door, literally and figuratively, to a whole new world of possibilities. When you get to the outer edge of your comfort zone, are you prepared to open the door to your new possibilities?